Big win for the Arctic! Obama protects Arctic Ocean from oil and gas leasing

NOAA Image Library, Flickr

In a major victory for the environment, the Obama administration has moved to protect the Arctic Ocean by removing it from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s 2017-22 program for offshore oil and gas leasing.

Thank you to the tens of thousands of you who responded to our requests to sign your name to a letter urging the administration to take this step. This is your victory!

“This is a great announcement for the American people and for the Arctic Ocean,” said Lois Epstein, an Alaska-licensed engineer and Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society. “The removal of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas from the leasing program shows that the Obama administration learned from Shell’s disastrous record in Alaska, and recognizes that the Arctic Ocean is important for more than just oil and gas.”

As Shell proved during its ill-fated 2012 and 2015 drilling seasons, the industry is incapable of safely operating in such a remote and challenging environment. Offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean would pose a direct threat to the sensitive coastlines of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Depending on the location and conditions at the time of a major oil spill, these fragile places could suffer massive harm.

Map: The 5-year drilling plan would have opened the way for leasing in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas where fragile Arctic ecosystems could be irreparably harmed. 

“Arctic Ocean oil is among the riskiest and most costly in the world and producing it would worsen the effects of climate change,” Epstein said. “Additionally this oil is not needed because there likely will be ample world oil supply available for many years, and the trans-Alaska pipeline system has enough oil throughput to operate for the next half-century.

“We are extremely grateful the administration has taken this important step to remove the risk of drilling-related spills in the near-term from species such as polar bears and bowhead whales and from Alaska’s remote coastal villages that depend on the ocean for their food and way of life,” Epstein added.