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-- The Arctic may hold 90 billion barrels of oil, more than all the known reserves of Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Mexico combined, and enough to supply U.S. demand for 12 years, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

One-third of the undiscovered oil is in Alaskan territory, the agency found in a study released today. By contrast, a geologic formation beneath the North Pole claimed by Russian scientists last year probably holds just 1.2 percent of the Arctic's crude, the U.S. report showed.

Energy producers such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Chevron Corp. have accelerated exploration of the northernmost regions for untapped reserves amid record prices and receding access to deposits in more hospitable climates. Russia's move to scrap a United Nations convention and carve out an exclusive Arctic zone sparked protests from Canada, the U.S., Norway and Denmark.

``Most of the Arctic, especially offshore, is essentially unexplored with respect to petroleum,'' Donald Gautier, the project chief for the assessment, said in the report. ``The extensive Arctic continental shelves may constitute the geographically largest unexplored prospective area for petroleum remaining on Earth.''

Russia dispatched a nuclear-powered icebreaker to the Arctic Ocean last year to map a subsea link between Siberia and the North Pole as part of a bid to refute a UN convention limiting resource claims beyond 200 miles (321 kilometers) offshore. Canada said earlier this month that it plans to counter the Russian overture with ``a very strong claim'' to Arctic exploration rights.

No Time Estimate

The U.S. report didn't include an estimate for how long it will take to bring the reserves to markets. Offshore fields in the Gulf of Mexico and West Africa can take a decade or longer to begin pumping oil.