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Oil in the Arctic

The Arctic is home to vibrant communities and populations of iconic wildlife.  While the people of the Arctic live onshore, their culture and the subsistence way of life are inextricably tied to the oceans and, in particular, to the bowhead whale, ice seals, walruses and fish. 

The U.S. Arctic Ocean includes the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, together nearly 200,000 square miles, which have been largely protected from industrial activity by the remoteness and unforgiving climate of the Arctic. The incredible reduction in Arctic sea ice over the last few years, however, opens these seas to the possibility of unprecedented industrialization.

The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to the substantial risks from oil spills, noise, and other industrialization in places that serve as vital habitat for animals, such as migratory birds, polar bears, whales, walrus, seals and fish. These areas, which have not been protected by any moratoria, are now open for oil and gas activities.

The federal government’s current Five-Year Plan (2007-2012) makes available for oil and gas development more than 70 million acres of land underlying the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Leasing has occurred and there is ongoing seismic exploration.  There is also a current proposed 2010-15 Five-Year Plan that would expand the scope and speed with which this leasing would occur.