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Getting It Right for the Arctic Ocean

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22 January 2014, 5:52 PM
Court denies offshore oil lease in the Chukchi Sea for the second time
A beluga whale surfaces in the Chukchi Sea. (Florian Schulz /

A court gave the Arctic great news today. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Department of the Interior violated the law when it sold offshore oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska, including the leases on which Royal Dutch Shell wants to drill. This is the second time a court has ruled against the Department’s decision to open this remarkable sea to offshore drilling.

The Court said the Department made arbitrary assumptions about development that may have low-balled the potential environmental impacts of the sale in violation of a bedrock environmental law and sent the decision back for the agency to reconsider.

The agency must now revise its analysis, disclose the full potential impacts of oil development in this fragile but dangerous environment, and reassess whether to allow oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

This is once again an opportunity to send a loud and clear message to the Obama administration—going to extremes to extract fossil fuels from such a fragile, important habitat and culturally rich area just doesn’t make sense. The Chukchi Sea is part of America’s Arctic Ocean north of Alaska. It is home to iconic species such as polar bears, walrus, beluga whales, bowhead whales, and seals. It is also home to vibrant Alaska Native communities that have depended for millennia on the ocean for their subsistence way of life.

Walruses in the Chukchi Sea. (USGS)

Walruses in the Chukchi Sea. The Chukchi is home to a rich variety of marine life. (USGS)

Beluga pod in the Chukchi Sea. (Laura Morse / NOAA)

Beluga whale pod in the Chukchi Sea. Belugas are social animals that often migrate, hunt and interact with each other in groups ranging from ten to several hundred. (Laura Morse / NOAA)

The region is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, putting tremendous strain on its wildlife and people. There is currently no oil and gas development in the Chukchi Sea. The Chukchi Sea and its coast are remote—the coast contains a smattering of small Alaska Native communities that are not connected to a road system, lack deep-water harbors, and can only be reached by plane or, in summer, by boat. The region is hundreds of miles from the nearest coast-guard station and lacks rescue and oil spill response capacity.

Kulluk being moved after grounding.Shell's drilling unit Kulluk, being moved for repairs after grounding in 2012. (James Mason / Earthjustice)

Remember when Shell tried to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean in 2012? It was a disaster—one of its drill ships ran aground suffering so much damage it now looks to be scrapped, Shell’s oil spill containment dome was “crushed like a beer can” and as a result the company was not allowed to drill into oil bearing rock, Shell’s drill ships incurred over a million dollars in fines for air pollution violations, the Coast Guard and the Department of Justice opened investigations for marine pollution and safety violations, and the company was chased from one drill site by a giant ice floe and trapped at another by encroaching ice and bad weather. Shell would like you to forget all that.

But the truth is, drilling in the Arctic Ocean is too risky for the Arctic and the planet. Production of Arctic Ocean oil not only risks pollution and harm to the region, but releases billions of tons of new carbon into the atmosphere. It makes no sense to open up the fragile, irreplaceable, and already melting Arctic Ocean to risky drilling for dirty oil that will only exacerbate climate change already wreaking havoc on the Arctic and elsewhere. The administration should halt drilling and cancel the Chukchi leases.

Kittiwakes fly over the Chukchi Sea. (Florian Schulz /

Kittiwakes fly over the Chukchi Sea. Many bird species migrate through and breed in the Arctic. (Florian Schulz /

The Chukchi Sea. (Karen E. Frey / NOAA)

Home to many iconic wildlife species, the Chukchi Sea is part of America’s Arctic Ocean, north of Alaska. It is also home to vibrant Alaska Native communities that have depended for millennia on the ocean for their subsistence way of life. (Karen E. Frey / NOAA)

I just now read the WONDERFUL NEWS! I use my local library's computer to read my emails and everyone in here now knows the good news too! Couldn't keep quiet! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With so many other places to get oil from, it truly doesn't make sense to use this area for any of it. There are options and the President would be well-served to allow the private sector to figure it out, without all these crazy disturbances.




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Fantastic news! The ecosystem is in such a fragile state that we must do everything in our power to make sure that the Artic and other places on Earth such as it, remain untouched and rich in wildlife and ocean mammals. There has been so much global warming already and drilling in places like the Artic would just speed the progression of the destruction of our planet. Congrats Earthjustice!

Great news :-) But it's just a start. Fracking and oilsands are next.

Great news :-) But it's just a start. Fracking and oilsands are next.

Our earth, air waters need to survive
else we all die

The environmental and USDA policies of the Obama administration are no better than those of the Bush-Cheney ones(or should I say Cheney-Bush). I suppose they had to make some concessions to big agra and the fossil fuel corporations in order to pass that Obamacare bill which in itself would be unnecessary if big pharma and the insurance companies didn`t grossly overcharge on everything. And so they decided to put nature on the sacrificial altar for political expediency. The US congress seems to be a corporate brothel infested with lobbies where you can get anything if you have enough many and influence to pay for it!

This is not only nature that is being endangered it is many of the people that make their homes in the Arctic Refuge as well such as the Gwich'in American Indians: One woman said, “We have the basic human right to choose our way of life on this land so that we can live the way we have lived for thousands and thousands of years. It’s our spirituality, it’s our religion, it’s how we put our food on table, and it’s our whole world view.
”Another woman said, “Oil will bring you money but money will run out someday. We cannot eat money. We cannot eat oil. But the land will provide us food and everything we have forever as long as we take care of it.” See more here on this brave women:
God Bless them...



Thanks for all you've accomplished!! EARTHJUSTICE FOREVER!!!

Thank You! & God Bless You!

It is wonderful to hear good news like this! May more good things like this keep happening!!
Thank you for all your hard work!!!

Thank you very much for your good work EARTHJUSTICE. Since I heard of you and the good people working for you I trusted you. Keep up the good work. Congratulations.


I am overjoyed to hear of this very significant victory. I know that the fight to protect our last wild places and their inhabitants is not over. But this Chukchi Sea protection is very heartening and we must keep fighting. I agree that President Obama could make the environment a priority which he has never done. Good job, Earthjustice. Thank you!

This is a good start. Disappoinnted in the obama administration for even allowing it to go this far. Hope the courts stay strong and dont bow to political or govt pressure

i am very disappointed that the obama administration would even pursue this endeavor. Finally the courts are doing the right think. Hopefully they stay strong and dont bow to political pressure or govt pressure. Great story, hope it sticks.

Thanks Earth Justice. It's so good to know that sometimes even the mighty America can do the right thing rather than letting the corporate big bucks determine policy. I say that as someone born & living in the USA. I love what my country stands for but not always what we do. This is a big win.

Truly great news. This will not be the last word, but it certainly is a good one. I pinned, tweeted, and scooped your article (see the scoop at
Thank you.

Thank you, Earth Justice, for this important victory. Let's keep up the good work.

Earthjustice continues to do the right things for our planet and for all living things on it!! God bless all the people that are so dedicated to stopping the destruction of our fragile ecosystems and the animals that inhabit them. And thank you to all of the wonderful people out there who take the time to make their voices heard and for helping to stop those who only care about money and don't care about the planet!!!

It does my heart good to see that Earth Justice won a victory for Alaska, and to see all the wonderful support. Thank you Earth Justice for all your hard work!!

I am glad to know that there are individual of acumen, courage and wisdom involved in the business of protecting thing of value from greed and thoughtless behavior. I thank you. We have wan this battle, let us continue the good fight and win the war.

I am so glad that people of acumen, wisdom and conscience unite to defend life against greed and thoughtless. We have wan this battle; now let us win the ward. Good work!

A most hopeful sign! GREAT WORK !!


Great news! What we need now is for President Obama to stand up and say that the Arctic will be protected from development, forever. He could, under his Presidential Powers, declare it a Wilderness Area. So far, the president has been a bit of a wimp on the Environment. By doing this, and other things, like cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline, he could become known as the President who saved the World. (It's not often I make like an optimist!)

This is great news!!! Oil rigs DO NOT BELONG in our oceans anywhere but especially in the Arctic!!! Thank you for all you do to help our planet and everything that lives on it!!!

Why do these people think they have the right to ruin every part of this country for their benefit. Keep out of the Chukchi Sea and leave the living to the people and animals that live there.

As Stwaads of the Earth, we must make our Mother, the Earth livable & sustainable for all senescent Beings


drilling in this fragile place would accelerate the global warming process just by nature of the business. that region of the world is all ready experiencing major warming changes in
the glaciation melt and sea rising. all measures must be inacted to prevent "shell"
from their self serving,narrow, point of view on global changes.

I gather that the gas involved in this lease is part of the known reserves of fossil fuel that will need to be bought from the fossil fuel firms as Dane geld to bribe them to stay out of the way of our much needed efforts to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy and clean up the already existing mess with carbon capture and storage.

Yes, fossil fuels. The court found them in violation of bedrock rules. It's in the article there. Yes, we in Canada want to go Solar ! We would have advocated for the Arctic to become a World Heritage Site under the UNESCO. (Never mind what our current Gov't says: Harper & his Big Oil cronies). You said carbon capture & storage...hmmmm? I'm wondering about this. If you have any information on that you are welcome Friend Request me at Cynthia Joan Morrison. I will also google it. We are trying to save the WILD Atlantic Salmon right now. Warning: Do NOT eat the new GMO Salmon on shelves now ! Also, you may be interested in this...a documentary being filmed called Green Rights by Silver Donald Cameron & crew. Thanx! See ya.

OMG!! This is soooo awesome!! Great work

Congratulations! How welcome to see the law on the right side for a change standing up to both Republican and Democratic collusion with industry at the expense of our planet. Hope this decision stands!

keep up the good fight!

Great news. Hope this is not just a feel-good step but really means that the courts are considering the whole picture...

Thanks for your hard work!

Nature needs indeed plenty of good lawyers - and good laws!


Everything is interconnected. Ice melts, sea levels rise, wind and water currents change, salinity increases, some die, others change and adapt. Humans have developed agriculture and computers in an unusually long interglacial period. We live on an ice planet. Stop chasing the tiny oil and gas left, change our behavior to adapting to using clean, renewable energy. Whales and dolphins are sentient and beach themselves to scream for humans to stop killing the oceans, the air, the entire interconnected planet. Otherwise, the FLood from Noah's Ark will come with rising sea levels and only the high mountaintops, missing their ice caps, and the animals on the Ark survived. When it is a water planet, and the oceans are dead, and all the animals are dead, REMEMBER, we cannot eat money, or stock certificates.

Keep up the good work Earth Justice.


I greatly appreciate the work of Earth Justice. Just reading this blog tonight taught me so much. There is so much in the Artic that is unique to this pristine area. It needs special protection.

This is Great News!

Wonderful news! Cheers!!!!!

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