Obama’s Proposed Offshore Drilling Plan Falls Short in Protecting Arctic Ocean

While Atlantic Coast Spared New Oil & Gas Leases, Parts of Arctic Coast Still Up for Grabs

Today, the Obama administration released a revised draft of the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The plan would allow new oil and gas leasing in the Arctic while restricting them in the Atlantic.

“Opening new areas for drilling in the Arctic Ocean, is not only risky, it’s unnecessary,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold (@david_yarnold). “We need to focus on other sources of energy that don’t put people, birds and other wildlife in danger. Spills under ice sheets are uncontrollable and the ability to respond to emergencies is pitifully inadequate.” 

“In their joint statement last week, President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau pledged to protect 10% of Arctic marine areas, and we applaud that pledge,” said Susan Culliney, Audubon Alaska’s Policy Associate. “We need the president to follow through and preserve the opportunity to come back and protect key areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas with high ecological value. Places like the Beaufort Sea Nearshore Important Bird Area, which holds significant numbers of King Eiders, Red-throated Loons, and Pacific Black Brant, as well as nearly 30 percent of North America’s Long-tailed Ducks. A major spill in the Arctic Ocean would make responding to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster look easy.”

The Arctic Ocean supports thousands upon thousands of birds as well as bowhead whales, polar bears, and walrus, and other marine mammals. Drilling in the Arctic Ocean puts all this, and the communities that depend on this landscape, at risk. The Barrow Canyon Complex, which straddles both the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, is the location of the globally significant Barrow Canyon and Smith Bay Important Bird Area, used by nearly a quarter of North America’s Long-tailed Ducks and King Eiders. The nearshore Chukchi corridor, stretching about 50 miles into the ocean from the coast, is the site of one of the largest marine mammal migrations in the world and crucial for many birds that migrate to the North Slope. This area includes globally Important Bird Areas for species such as Yellow-billed Loon, Spectacled Eider, and Pacific Black Brant.

Over the coming weeks, there will be hearings on the revised 5-Year Plan draft around the country, offering the public a chance to testify on the proposal. The final plan—expected by December 2016—presents another opportunity for the Obama administration to live up to its promise to protect our Arctic coasts and communities.


About the National Audubon Society

The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at and @audubonsociety.

About Audubon Alaska

Our mission is to conserve the spectacular natural ecosystems of the Great Land, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. We use science to identify conservation priorities and support conservation actions and policies, with an emphasis on public lands and waters.



Nicolas Gonzalez, National Audubon Society,, (212) 979-3068.

Beth Peluso, Audubon Alaska,, (907) 276-7034.

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