Offshore Drilling in America’s Arctic Ocean

The remote and pristine Arctic Ocean off Alaska’s Arctic coast is comprised of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The Chukchi Sea is the Arctic’s westernmost sea and is home to roughly half of America’s polar bears, approximately 2,000 animals, or one-tenth of the world’s population. It also is part of the spring and fall migration routes for endangered bowhead and beluga whales, and an important habitat for migratory birds. The Chukchi’s shallow and highly productive sea floor allows crustaceans, mollusks, etc., to flourish, supporting walrus, seals, gray whales and deep-diving sea birds. Many of these species also rely on ice edges for resting, denning and/or calving.The Inupiat people of the region depend on the marine life of the Arctic –  for the survival of their way of life and ancient culture.


2017-2022 Arctic Offshore Leasing Program

In 2015, The Department of the Interior (DOI) released a draft of the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas leasing program (five-year plan), which proposes new lease sales within the more than 80 million acre planning areas of the Arctic’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The lease sales scheduled would occur in 2021 and 2022.

In 2016, the Department of Interior is  accepting public comment on this plan before finalizing. Here is information on upcoming comment periods:

  • March – June 2016 – Proposed program and Draft Environmental Impact Statement are open for public comment with public hearings scheduled in communities across Alaska. These comment periods will run concurrently for a maximum length of 90 days.
  • Fall 2016 – Proposed Final Program and Final Environmental Impact Statement for a 60-day review period before Congress where the public can also give feedback before a final plan is issued.
  • December 2016/January 2017 – Final 5 year Program and Record of Decision Announced.

The Department of Interior needs to hear loud and clear not to lease new areas in the Arctic Ocean. With the high risk of a large oil spill and increased impacts of climate change, drilling in the Arctic Ocean is not worth the risk.


Send written comments by May 2, 2016, to:

Dr. Jill K. Lewandowski
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
45600 Woodland Road VAM-OEP
Sterling, VA 20166


OR  submit online:



The History: 2015 was a turning point in the Arctic Ocean

Over the past decade, Shell Oil Company and others have invested heavily in an Arctic oil and gas program. But following its disastrous exploration season in 2012 and a second failed attempt in 2015, Shell elected to pull out of Alaska ‘for the foreseeable future. Other major companies have also opted out of their Arctic programs. Shell has, however, requested to extend its current Arctic Ocean leases that are set to expire in 2017 and 2020.

Meanwhile, in January, President Obama withdrew specific areas of the Arctic Ocean from oil and gas leasing in order to protect important ecological areas, subsistence resources, and access to subsistence resources. The areas withdrawn include Hanna Shoal and other critical migration and subsistence use areas. These protections provide food security and support the cultural health of coastal communities. Hanna Shoal in the Chukchi Sea is a feeding stronghold for ice-dependent wildlife like the Pacific walrus, polar bear, gray whale, bearded seal and ringed seal. The Chukchi Sea migration corridor serves as an important area of travel for the bowhead whale and thousands of spotted seals, and it also provides important walrus haul-out areas. These withdrawals lead the way to setting aside other potential key biological and subsistence use areas in the Arctic Ocean.

The Obama administration also in 2015 announced the cancelation of all current planned federal lease sales for both the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in 2016/17.