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Russia finds huge oil and gas reserves in British Antarctic territory

Russia has found huge oil and gas reserves in British Antarctic territory, potentially leading to drilling in the protected region.

The reserves uncovered contain around 511bn barrels worth of oil, equating to around 10 times the North Sea’s output over the last 50 years.

The discovery, per Russian research ships, was revealed in evidence submitted to the Commons Environment Audit Committee last week. The committee was assessing questions regarding oil and gas research on ships owned by the Kremlin’s Rosgeo, the largest geological exploration company in Russia.

Antarctica is currently protected by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits all oil developments in the area.

It was set up to ensure the region was used “exclusively for peaceful purposes” and would “not become the scene or object of international discord.”

The committee heard from minister David Rutley, who assured MPs Russia was conducting scientific research in the region. “Russia has recently reaffirmed its commitment to the key elements of the treaty,” he said.

But Klaus Dodds, a professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway University, argued the Antarctic policy environment was “arguably at its most challenging since the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created “widespread concern that a worsening relationship with the country will spark strategic competition and make it even more explicit in Antarctica.”

He believes Russian activity in the region equated to hunting for oil and gas as opposed to scientific research.

“Russia’s activities need to be understood as a decision to undermine the norms associated with seismic survey research, and ultimately a precursor for forthcoming resource extraction,” Dodds said in comments reported by the Telegraph.

The Antarctic Treaty is the largest of Britain’s 14 overseas territories but it has faced competition claims from Argentina and Chile in the past.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “Russia has repeatedly assured the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting that these activities are for scientific purposes.”

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