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Honor UN request for EIA on Wrangel Island World Heritage Reserve

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Department of Interior’s offshore leasing program and Royal Dutch Shell’s proposal to explore for oil and gas in the Chukchi Sea are vastly out of step with sound science, indigenous knowledge, national and international law and the realities of climate change.  It imposes unacceptable risks on North Slope Iñupiat communities [1],[2], from Point Hope to Nuiqsut (including Barrow, Wainwright, Point Lay and Cape Lisburne) [3], who have long depended upon food from the sea for survival, and vulnerable Chukchi ecosystems that support concentrations of Pacific Walrus, Polar Bear, Arctic whales and sea-birds found nowhere else on the planet [4] including the Wrangel Island World Heritage Reserve [5].

We call on President Obama and the Department of Interior to revoke Fish and Wildlife Service walrus and polar bear harassment approvals that violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act [6],[7], and fully respond to the World Heritage Committee request for an Environmental Impact Assessment and IUCN review of potential impacts on the Wrangel Island World Heritage Reserve[8] prior to issuing final APD’s to Shell.

Approval of Shell’s Exploration Plan in the Chukchi Sea undermines Iñupiat sovereignty and subsistence rights [9], [10]and violates Democratic Principles and the spirit and intent (if not the letter) of our Nation’s most cherished environmental laws and regulations including the National Environmental Policy Act [11], Endangered Species Act [12], Marine Mammal Protection Act [13], [14] Clean Water Act [15], Clean Air Act [16] and others [17].

The Chukchi Sea is a wild, remote and vulnerable region of the world that is warming twice as fast as the global average[18].  Rising land and sea temperatures are directly and profoundly impacting Arctic communities[19] and ecosystems [20]. 

A large and expanding body of scientific, empirical [21] and indigenous knowledge [22] confirms that we must stop burning fossil fuels and leave a significant portion – including all Arctic offshore oil and gas – in the ground [23] and make a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy sources to limit warming to a livable 1.5°C and avert run-away global climate change [24].  

Ironically, as sea ice retreats in response to warming, industry’s rush to claim the Arctic’s vast oil and gas resources is intensifying, despite the extreme probability of a catastrophic oil spill [25], lack of essential infrastructure and effective oil response technologies [26], extreme unpredictability of ice formation and weather conditions [27], risk, cost and industry’s repeated inability to operate responsibly or respond effectively to well blow-outs and spills, even in relatively mild conditions [28],[29], [30].

A recent analysis of spill response scenarios in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, commissioned by your agency, found state of the art tactics were not possible 18% to 56% of the time during the summer drilling season [31].  Heavy reliance on chemical dispersants was assumed to be the primary tactic [32] but the profound toxic effects of dispersants on humans and marine ecosystems was ignored [33].

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management found a 75% chance of one or more catastrophic spills [34] from Arctic drilling.  The reckless and irresponsible behavior of Royal Dutch Shell and its contractors during the 2012 Arctic exploration [35],[36] underscores the foolishness of green-lighting Arctic drilling and inevitability of a catastrophic oil spill that would exacerbate international conflict and devastate Arctic communities and ecosystems, including the spectacularly biodiverse Hanna Shoal [37] and Wrangel Island World Heritage Preserve [38].


[1] Fjellheim, R.S. and Henriksen, J. B., Oil and Gas Exploitation on Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ Territories, Galdu Cala: Journal of Indigenous Peoples Rights No. 4/2006,

[2] Shell cancels 2014 Arctic drilling – Arctic Ocean & Inupiat rights reality check, guest blog by Faith Gemmill, Executive Director of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Platform, Jan. 30, 2014,

[3] North Slope, Alaska Land Ownership Map, North Slope Borough,

[4] Why Drilling the Chukchi is a Bad Idea, Letter to Dr. James Kendall, BOEM Regional Director, Alaska Audubon, Oceana & Ocean Conservancy, May 1, 2015,

[5] Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve,

[6] Earthjustice letter to DOI Secretary Sally Jewell, June 23, 2015,

[7] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Incidental Take Authorizations under the MMPA,

[8] UN asks US government to assess risk to Wrangel Island before allowing Shell to drill,

[9] Shadian, Jessica M, Of Whales and oil: Inuit resource governance and the Arctic Council.  Polar Record, 49 (251):392-405 (2013), Cambridge University Press, 2013,

[10] Department of Wildlife Management, Mission, Goals and Objectives, North Slope Borough, Alaska,

[11] Mark Templeton, Memorandum Supporting Request by Oceana and University of Chicago Abrams Environmental Law Clinic for Formal Investigation into Disclosures Made by Royal Dutch Shell PLC About Its US Arctic Ocean Program, Abrams Environmental Law Clinic, University of Chicago Law School, April 27, 2015,

[12] Rose Hackman, Shell’s US Arctic drilling will harass thousands of whales and seals, The Guardian, June 5, 2015,

[13] Earthjustice, letter to Sally Jewell, Secretary of Interior, June 23, 2015,

[14] Marine Mammal Protection Act, Incidental Take Regulations,

[15] Rose Hackman, Shell’s US Arctic drilling will harass thousands of whales and seals, The Guardian, June 5, 2015,

[16] Jerzy Shedlock, Shell fined $1.1 million for Clean Air Act violations during 2012 Arctic drilling season, Alaska Dispatch News, Sept 5, 2013,

[17] Jennifer Klein, The Arctic Litigation Season, Climate Law Blog, Columbia Law School, June 5, 2014,

[18] Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Impacts in Alaska.

[19] Alaska Native Villages: Most Are Affected by Flooding and Erosion, but Few Qualify for Federal Assistance, United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-04-142, December 12, 2003,

[20] Duarte, C.M., Lenton, T.M., et al.  Abrupt climate change in the Arctic.  Nature Climate Change. Vol 2, February 2012.

[21] McGlade, Christophe & Ekins, Paul.  The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2oC.  Nature. Vol 517 187-190.

[22] Barnhardt, R., & Kawagley, A. O. (2005). Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Alaska Native Ways of Knowing. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), pp. 8-23,

[23] Rogelj, J. , Luderer, G. Pietzcker, R.C., et al. Energy system transformations for limiting end-of-century warming to below 1.5°C.  Nature Climate Change. Vol 5, 519-527, March 2015.

[24] Lontzek, T.S., Cai,  Judd, K.L., et al.   Stochastic integrated assessment of climate tipping points indicates the need for strict climate policy.  Nature Climate Change.  Vol 5, 441–444, May 2015.

[25] Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Chukchi Sea Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Lease Sale 193, Vol 1, page 154. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

[26] National Research Council, Report on Oil Spill Response, 2014,

[27] Lee, J. and Yasumiishi, E. (Ed).  Mudge, Todd, Borg, Keath, et al.  Chukchi Sea Ice Observations by Upward Looking Sonars, 2008-2014.  2015 Alaska Marine Science Symposium Book of Abstracts. January 19-23, 2015.

[28] Murray S., and Short, J. A Frozen Hell. Nature.  Vol 472, April 14, 2011.

[29] Deepwater Horizon Study Group.  Final Report on the Investigation of the Macondo Well Blowout.  University of California, Berkeley.  March 1, 2011.

[30] National Response Team. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: A Report to the President (Executive Summary). United States Environmental Protection Agency.  May 1989.

[31] Nuka Research and Planning Group, LLC. Estimating and Oil Spill Response Gap for the U.S. Arctic Ocean.  September 10, 2014.  Funded by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C. under contract E13PCOOO24.

[32] Ibid

[33] Ott, Riki. Petition for Rulemaking Under the Clean Water Act.  Environmental Protection Agency.  Filed on behalf of the ALERT Coalition.

[34] Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Chukchi Sea Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Lease Sale 193, Vol 1, page 154. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

[35] Funk, McKenzie.  The Wreck of the Kulluk.  The New York Times Magazine.  Dec. 30, 2014.

[36] Report to the Secretary of the Interior: Review of Shell’s 2012 Alaska Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration Program.  March 8, 2013.  U.S. Department of Interior.

[37] Hanna Shoal Ecosystem Study,

[38] UNESCO Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve.

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