Arctic Wildlife Gains Protections from Big Oil

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Federal court halts Chukchi Sea development activities pending environmental review

On July 21, 2010, a federal judge suspended oil and gas drilling activities associated with Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193 because the government did not undertake a proper analysis of the potential consequences of drilling in the ecologically sensitive area.

Tens of thousands of Defenders supporters have spoken up and contributed to our efforts against dangerous offshore drilling that threatens polar bears, bowhead whales and other Arctic wildlife. Your support helped secure this important reprieve for the region’s imperiled species and the people that live there.

The ruling arose from a 2008 lawsuit challenging the sale of the leases that was filed by the Village of Point Hope and a coalition of conservation organizations, including Defenders of Wildlife, against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement, and Regulation (formerly Minerals Management Service).

“This decision halting new drilling in Alaska's Chukchi Sea represents a great opportunity for the Obama administration to take a new look at the risks of offshore drilling to our oceans, our coasts, and marine wildlife,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf has demonstrated clearly just how risky offshore oil drilling can be, and the risks in the remote and wild Arctic Ocean are simply too great to take.”

Ignoring Science Threatens Imperiled Wildlife

The Chukchi Sea is home to sensitive populations of threatened polar bears, bowhead whales, and spectacled and Steller’s eiders. These and other species in the region are essential to the livelihood of Alaska Native communities.

But despite the significance and sensitivity of the Arctic Ocean, there is a profound lack of basic knowledge about this unique and fragile ecosystem and the wildlife that inhabits it. Data gaps exist on whale migrations and feeding habits and there are no reliable population estimates for Chukchi Sea polar bears. An oil spill on any scale in this sensitive and often harsh climate would have devastating impacts—thirty years after the Exxon Valdez disaster, there is still no proven technology to clean up a spill in the broken sea ice of these Arctic waters.

What’s Next for Arctic Wildlife?

The court’s ruling was a major win for Arctic people and wildlife but there is still more work to be done to protect this important area over the long term. The Obama administration must now take seriously its responsibility to engage scientists and the public as it reconsiders opening one of the country's most remote and fragile ocean environments to drilling. Defenders of Wildlife will continue to fight to stop drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea and prevent another oil disaster that would cause irreparable harm to the region, its people and its wildlife.

Learn More

Press Release: Federal court halts oil and gas activities under Chukchi Sea lease sale

Lawsuit: Native Village of Point Hope v. Kempthorne

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