Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans from Alaska, have introduced legislation to expand oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and Cook Inlet, putting fragile ecosystems and endangered wildlife at risk.


In December, President Obama permanently protected large areas of U.S. waters in the Arctic from oil and gas drilling. The new bill—Senate Bill 883—would effectively cancel these protections and force the Department of the Interior to quickly approve new oil and gas leasing.

"It's not possible to drill safely in the Arctic, as we just saw from the leaking oil and gas well on the North Slope," said Miyoko Sakashita, ocean programs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "This legislation's nothing more than a giveaway to oil companies. It'll hurt Alaska's healthy habitat and endangered wildlife."

S. 883 would require Interior to add at least three leases each in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and one in Cook Inlet to each five-year leasing plan. The agency would be required to establish a new near-shore Beaufort planning area with annual lease sales for the next three years.

The bill would also overturn President Obama's decision to stop exploration and drilling permanently in most of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas under Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. These areas are home to several endangered species, including polar bears and bowhead whales.

"If we let oil companies drill the Arctic, a catastrophic oil spill is just a matter of time," Sakashita said. "It's shameful that the Alaska congressional delegation has so little regard for the horrendous damage the oil industry could do to this fragile ecosystem and the people who live and work along this coast."

Leading climate scientists say the vast majority of untapped fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic, irreversible changes to the climate. Unleased federal waters contain an estimated 75 billion barrels of crude oil, more than twice that of unleased federal lands. Stopping the expansion of new leases in federal waters would keep 61.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and oceans.