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Oil and Gas Lease Sale in the Chukchi Sea

Walrus in the Arctic's Chukchi Sea.

Walrus in the Arctic's Chukchi Sea.

Sarah Sonsthagen / U.S. Geological Survey

What's at Stake

The Arctic provides vital habitat for polar bears, endangered bowhead whales, walrus, beluga whales, seals, fish and marine birds. Alaska native communities along the Chukchi Sea practice a subsistence way of life and have depended on the resources of this sea for their cultural and nutritional well-being for thousands of years.

Case Overview

Alaska's Chukchi Sea, part of America's Arctic, provides vital habitat for polar bears, endangered bowhead whales, walrus, beluga whales, seals, fish and marine birds. Alaska native communities along the Chukchi Sea practice a subsistence way of life and have depended on the resources of this sea for their cultural and nutritional well-being for thousands of years.

In recent years, the wildlife and people of this poorly-understood but precious and vibrant region have experienced dramatic impacts from climate change, melting sea ice, declining wildlife populations and eroding shorelines. In February 2008, in the face of these dramatic changes, huge gaps in basic scientific information about the region, an admission that there is no way to clean up oil in the icy waters that prevail in the Chukchi Sea during most of the year, and warnings from government scientists, the Bush Interior Department offered 30 million acres of this sensitive Arctic ecosystem for oil and gas leasing, an important first step in committing an area to oil and gas development.

The environmental impact statement prepared by the Mineral Management Service (part of the Department of the Interior, since renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) in connection with the lease sale failed, among other things, to properly evaluate basic scientific information about the Chukchi Sea and the effects of oil and gas activities there and to obtain that information if possible.

Shortly before the lease sale was held, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of a broad group of Alaska native organizations and conservation groups challenging the adequacy of the agency's environmental impact statement.

In January 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Chukchi Lease Sale 193 was held unlawfully. This was the second time the massive offshore oil and gas sale was sent back by the courts. On June 1, 2015, 12 groups continued the fight. The sale, originally rushed through in 2008 by the Bush administration and unsuccessfully justified once in 2011 by the Obama administration, was based on poor science and arbitrary economic assumptions. After examining all of the impacts of Lease Sale 193 via the revised environmental impact statement, the Interior should have concluded that no leasing should proceed in the Chukchi Sea. Arctic drilling is too risky to allow, proven by Shell’s disastrous 2012 drilling program.

Case Updates

June 19, 2015 | Feature

Frozen Treasure: Defending the Arctic

The Arctic is a thriving, diverse landscape filled with life. There is currently no offshore oil and gas development in America’s Arctic Ocean. And for the sake of our warming world and irreplaceable species, there should never be.

May 13, 2015 | Feature

Saving America's Arctic

Allowing reckless oil and gas development not only puts the fragile and irreplaceable Arctic Ocean at risk of devastating oil spills, but also threatens to worsen climate change, undermine national climate goals, and further stress the dramatically changing region.

March 24, 2015 | Blog Post

Ignoring the History of Exxon Valdez

On the 26th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, we look to the future of oil drilling leases in the Arctic Ocean.

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