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Antarctica covers approximately 14 million km2 (5.4 million mi2) and hosts an estimated 90% of the world's ice. About 98% of the continent is covered by glacial ice with an average thickness of 2,000 m (6,500 ft). Temperatures range from slightly below freezing along the coast in January to -88°C (-126°F) in the interior in August.
Seven nations lay claim to parts of Antarctica. However, some claims overlap and none are accepted or recognized by most nations, including the United States and the USSR. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which expires in June 1991, did not annul, but froze, the existing claims for the duration of the treaty. International meetings to determine jurisdictional and exploitative rights have been and are continuing to be held.
The first impression of the hydrocarbon potential of Antarctica is generally negative. The environment is hostile and only 2% of the continent is seen through the ice. Careful study of the surprisingly ample volume of published data available on the geology and geophysics of Antarctica, coupled with the application of the principles and mechanics of plate tectonics relative to the oceans and adjacent land masses, gives a different and very positive attitude toward the hydrocarbon potential of this vast unexplored frontier area.
On the basis of limited data, 21 sedimentary basins are identified for Antarctica and immediately adjacent areas. These include six onshore subglacial basins and 15 offshore basins. Excluding 11 basins considered to have little or no potential, the other 10 basins contain an estimated 16.9 million km3 (4.05 million mi3) of sediment having a potential hydrocarbon yield of 203 billion bbl oil equivalent.
The problems associated with hydrocarbon exploration in Antarctica are formidable. Technology is adequate for seismic surveys and exploratory drilling of the Antarctic continental shelf, as concluded from current operations in the Arctic and from operating requirements of drilling rigs under construction. However, a working relationship among involved nations must first be evolved and production, storage, and transportation problems solved.
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