/ ©: WWF

Arctic oil and gas

The Arctic is estimated to hold the world's largest remaining untapped gas reserves and some of its largest undeveloped oil reserves. These reserves if tapped have implications for the global climate, and for the Arctic environment.
A significant proportion of these reserves lie offshore, in the Arctic's shallow and biologically productive shelf seas.

Oil spills, whether from blowouts, pipeline leaks or shipping accidents, pose a tremendous risk to arctic ecosystems. Marine ecosystems are particularly vulnerable.

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Threats

Spill cleanup is impossible

There is no proven effective method for containing and cleaning up an oil spill in icy water.

We can't respond quickly to a spill

The difficult conditions of the Arctic, and its distance from where response capacity is stationed mean it can take days or weeks to respond to a spill, even during ice-free periods.

Spill recovery is slow

The Arctic is characterized by a short productive season, low temperatures, and limited sunlight.

As a result, it can take many decades for Arctic regions to recover from habitat disruption, tundra disturbance and oil spills.

Economically and culturally important species are at risk

Offshore oil exploration, drilling and production can disturb the fish and animals that are cornerstones of the subsistence and cultural livelihoods of Indigenous peoples in the Arctic. Arctic fisheries, providing both food and economic value far beyond the Arctic, are also at risk.

Ocean noise can injure marine mammals

Whales and other marine mammals use sound to navigate, find mates, and find food in the often dark waters of the ocean. Seismic noises, like the air gun used by oil and gas companies to explore for oil offshore, can be deafening for these species. Excessive ocean noise from oil and gas exploration and drilling could cause injury, confusion, and even death.
 / ©: WWF Norway
The Godafoss oil tanker spill near Oslo, Norway, threatened wildlife in the area.
© WWF Norway
A nightmare scenario is a large oil spill in the Arctic. When compared to the already difficult ... / ©: National Geographic Stock/ James P. Blair / WWF
An off-shore drilling platform in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska, USA. A nightmare scenario is a large oil spill in the Arctic. When compared to the already difficult nature of containing and cleaning an oil spill in somewhere like the Gulf of Mexico, the isolation and often extreme conditions of the Arctic would make any effective clean-up operation all but impossible.
© National Geographic Stock/ James P. Blair / WWF
Norway's Lofoten Islands in the Barents Sea, one place where WWF believes there should be no oil or ... rel=
Norway's Lofoten Islands in the Barents Sea, one place where WWF believes there should be no oil or gas developments.
© WWF-Canon / WWF-Norway / Frode Johansen

What we want to see

Currently, the risks of drilling in the Arctic are simply too high. Here's how we're asking governments to handle Arctic development responsibly:

Make oil and gas projects safer

Nobody has the ability to respond to and effectively contain or clean up major oil spills in the Arctic. We are encouraging governments and industry to support research into risk-lowering technologies, and adopt higher standards for spill prevention and clean up.

Move to renewable energy

Neither the Arctic nor the rest of the world can safely absorb the sort of climate change that would be triggered by exploiting all of the world’s hydrocarbons. To avoid severe climate impacts, it is urgent that we move towards a 100% renewable future.

Protect valuable places

A prerequisite for any oil & gas development should be the protection of areas of special biological, economic and cultural importance. It's particularly important to protect areas shown to be resilient to the effects of climate change.

WWF has already identified three areas that should be off-limits to oil exploitation:
  • the Lofoten and Vesteraalen islands of coastal Norway,
  • Bristol Bay in Alaska
  • West Kamchatka Shelf in Russia

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