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Defending America’s Arctic

Earthjustice has been advocating against drilling in the Arctic for more than a decade. Here’s how we got to where we are today.
Ringed seal (Pusa hispida) rests near a breathing hole in the Beaufort Sea, Arctic Ocean.
Ringed seal (Pusa hispida) rests near a breathing hole in the Beaufort Sea, Arctic Ocean.
What's Happening Now

The Trump administration appealed, on May 28, 2019, a U.S. District Court ruling that determined President Trump overstepped his constitutional authority and violated federal law when he attempted to undo a ban on oil and gas drilling in the vast majority of the Arctic Ocean and important areas of the Atlantic Ocean. (Erik Grafe, the lead Earthjustice attorney on the lawsuit, explains the significance of the ruling.) The legal case is ongoing.

20th Century
1990s
A seal and pup covered with oil, during the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in 1989.
Natalie B. Fobes / National Geographic Creative
A seal and pup covered with oil, during the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in 1989.

Earthjustice begins its fight to protect the Arctic from oil drilling, working to block leasing in the region’s most sensitive landscapes. (Learn about the Arctic.)

21st Century
2000s

As Arctic ice melts, the George W. Bush administration begins fast-tracking drilling in America’s Arctic Ocean.

Earthjustice responds by ramping up its Arctic Ocean work.

 
2007
The Arctic Refuge.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
The Arctic Refuge

Arctic Refuge

Thanks to Earthjustice litigation, a federal court halts Shell’s massive exploratory drilling plans in waters near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Read the legal document.

 
2010
A pod of Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean.
Vicki Beaver / NOAA
A pod of Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean.

Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea

Earthjustice litigation halts oil and gas drilling activities on millions of acres in the Chukchi Sea.

 
2011
An in situ burn of oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster sends towers of fire hundreds of feet into the air over the Gulf of Mexico on June 9, 2010.
U.S. Coast Guard
An in situ burn of oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster sends towers of fire hundreds of feet into the air over the Gulf of Mexico on June 9, 2010.

The Barack Obama administration greenlights Shell drilling in the Arctic Ocean less than two years after the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Earthjustice challenges Shell’s oil-spill response plan. Read the legal document.

 
2012
The drillship Kulluk is towed out of Alaska on March 26, 2013, after the towing line to the icebreaking anchor-handling tug Aiviq parted in heavy weather, and the unit ran aground on Sitkalidak Island.
James Mason for Earthjustice
The drillship Kulluk is towed out of Alaska on March 26, 2013, months after the unit ran aground on Sitkalidak Island.

Shell makes several blunders during preliminary drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean.

The company is eventually forced to evacuate 18 men aboard the exploratory drill rig Kulluk, ending the endeavor.

 
2013

The Public Speaks

A petition urging President Obama to cement his climate legacy by banning all Arctic Ocean drilling receives almost 80,000 signatures from Earthjustice supporters.

 
2014

Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea

Polar bears in the Chukchi Sea.
NOAA
Polar bears in the Chukchi Sea.

Earthjustice and our clients win again after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals orders the government to reconsider the environmental impact of drilling in Chukchi Sea. Read the legal document.

In the meantime, drilling is halted.

 
2015
Polar bears in the Chukchi Sea.
Nature / Vol 517 / 8 Jan. 2015

The climate case against Arctic drilling continues to build as scientists determine we must keep all Arctic fossil fuels in the ground if we want to avert a climate catastrophe.

 
May 2015

Kayaktivists

Hundreds of 'kayaktivists' swarm Shell Oil's drilling rig Polar Pioneer, as it arrives in Elliot Bay at the Port of Seattle on May 15, 2015.
Joshua Trujillo / SeattlePI.com
Hundreds of "kayaktivists" swarm Shell Oil's drilling rig Polar Pioneer, as it arrives in Elliot Bay at the Port of Seattle on May 15, 2015.

Hundreds of people in kayaks and canoes protest the docking of Shell’s drilling rig, Polar Pioneer, in Puget Sound, Washington, as the rig makes its way to the Arctic for drilling.

 
December 2016

Arctic Ocean Protected

Long-tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis) gathering on an icy water pool over the Arctic Ocean during the spring.
Long-tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis) gather on an icy water pool over the Arctic Ocean during the spring.

President Obama permanently protects 98% of the Arctic Ocean from oil drilling after years of advocacy by scientists, environmental leaders, and others.

 
2017

Withdrawal of Arctic Ocean Ban

President Trump rolls back a number of environmental protections within his first 100 days in office, including Obama’s permanent Arctic drilling ban.

Earthjustice challenges Trump’s reversal on May 3. Read the legal document.

 
2019

Rule of Law

A bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) and calf surface in the Arctic Ocean.
Amelia Brower / NOAA
A bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) and calf surface in the Arctic Ocean.

A U.S. District Court judge, on Mar. 29, strikes down Trump’s attempt to undo the ban, determining that he overstepped his constitutional authority and violated federal law. Read the legal document and explanation of the ruling.

On May 28, the administration appeals the decision. Earthjustice plans to fight the appeal.

Earthjustice represents in this lawsuit: Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Greenpeace USA, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands), Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society. Natural Resources Defense Council is co-counsel.

Map of Earthjustice offices.

Earthjustice’s Alaska Office has locations in Juneau and Anchorage.

Famed for its immense wilderness and abundant wildlife, the state is home to our country's only Arctic region, the Tongass National Forest, and a rich Alaska Native culture that dates back millennia. Since 1978, attorneys in our Alaska regional office have safeguarded public lands, waters and wildlife from destructive oil and gas drilling, mining and logging. Learn more.