[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCES] but made available to The Washington Post says that the Antactic shelf could contain potentially recoverable oil in the order of magnitude of tens of billions of barrels." This compares with the 30 billion to 60 billion barrels thought to lie off Alaska.
Another U.S. paper, prepared by the National Petroleum Council, concedes that the "ice poses special problems" to drillers but these "do not appear insurmountable."
These papers were written under the Ford administration, which was eager to find new oil resources under the threat of some future Arab boycott. But the Carter administration, like the oil companies, is attempting to convince the public that oil is a scarce resource and is uneager to advertise new potential finds. So, as authorities here explained, the United States lacks any position on whether to promote Antarctic exploration. None will be taken until Washington completes a secret review.
The other big power involved, the Soviet Union, is also against any agreement to explore for oil. In a paper presented at a private meeting of the treaty nations in Paris last year, the Soviets urged an indefinite moratorium on any mineral exploitation. Moscow expressed fears that an oil spill is inevitable and that it would damage the potentially rich harvest of crustaceans, the abundant krill, which Soviet trawlers are already netting.
The paper, reflecting Soviet priorities, fish over - is an indication that Moscow believes that it has plenty of oil and that protein is more important.
The British are al so urging a go-slow policy on oil. Like the oil companies, they have a vested interest in a high price for crude oil - Britain is just now bringing in its North Sea oil in volume, and it is costly to extract - and fear that new finds will crack an already weakening price. A publicly issued briefing paper from the Foreign Office deliberately underplays Antarctica's oil and gas, declaring, "so car no evidence has appeared to suggest that there may be large deposits."
The pressure of these three nations alone is said by delegates here to assure that there will be no movement toward any system to exploit the continent's offshore oil.
Antarctica also contains gold, platinum and chromium as well as more common minerals such as coal and iron ore. But since these are on land, covered with ice that rises nearly three miles at some points, they are not seen as profitable to mine.
If the meeting here produces anything, most delegates agree, it will be a system to share and conserve the enormous supply of krill. The little shrimp, high in protein, is said by some to taste like lobster and by others to taste like machine oil. There is agreement, however, that 50 million tons a year could be harvested safely. The world catch of all kinds of fish is 60 million tons. The Japanese and the Soviets have already caught krill and marketed it as a paste or spread. The West Germans - who cannot sit in on treaty meetings - have demonstrated that the crustacean need not be costly, collecting 20 tons an hour in one experimental ship.
At the brief open session, Robert C. Brewster, deputy assistant secretary of state for ocean, environmental and scientific affairs, called for creating a krill catch system "urgently."
The U.S. is privately suggesting a conference open to some other countries that would write an international treaty of krill. It would set limits to the yearly catch to avoid a repetition of the overkill that has all but extinguished Antarctica's whales.
Indeed, one reason for the abundance of krill is the disappearance of the whales, for whom the crustacean was the chief source of food.
The United States believes that it has backing from Australia and New Zealand and possibly Japan, but it expects several of the others to object to setting any precedent that would open the treaty discussion to outsiders.
Nevertheless, the one achievement likely from the meeting here is a concrete move towards some system to control the krill catch.
As if the competing economic interests of the 13 were not obstacle enough, all Antartic questions are tangled in a fight over sovereignty. Seven nations have already staked out territorial claims to pie-shaped slices of the continent. Those of Britain, Chile and Argentina overlap. In contrast, the United States and the Soviet Union recognize no claims of sovereignty and have posed none of their own.
John A. Heap, the key British expert in the Foreign Office, told the meeting that some answer must be found to this conundrum before any acceptable system of exploitation can be established.
The strength of the 1959 treaty lies in the fact that it froze all claims for 30 years, as well as declaring Antarctica out of bounds for any military and nuclear use. But the irrestible incentive to get at the resources appears, in the eyes of many, to have made the treaty obsolete.
A second problem is posed by the Third World. Sri Lanka, Guinea and others are urging that Antarctica's wealth, like that of the deep sea, be mankind. This means that they want a declared a "common heritage" of all share of the resources that more industrialized nations can develop.
The United States, however, calls for "open access" letting any country exploit the oil and fish. In practical terms, this would insure that they would go largely to technologically advanced nations.
Finally, scientists are concerned about the ecological effects of any mining or drilling. The Antarctic affects the world's weather and its oceans. If its ice melted, it is estimated that world's seas would rise 150 feet, an unthinkable global tidal wave. Unless Antarctica's riches are exploited with extreme care, it is feared, the consequences could be disastrous.
A lesser issue here is the treaty powers' habit of secrecy. The public, press and non-treaty nations have been excluded from the club's meetings and its knowledge.
Brewster, the U.S. delegate, has privately proposed that the 13 "declassify" the technical documents prepared by abd for them. But this proposal is understood to have already met with determined opposition from host Britain and Argentina.
Other members of the club are Norway, South Africa, France, Belgium and, as a new consultative member, Poland.