How we work
© US Coast Guard

Arctic Oil and Gas

The Arctic could hold some of the world's largest remaining untapped oil and gas reserves. Sustainability must be prioritized over exploitation in the Arctic because the implications are global.

Why it matters

The Arctic's shallow and biologically productive seas are also rich with oil reserves. But oil exploration poses a tremendous risk to vulnerable Arctic ecosystems and communities. Oil and gas development could also damage fisheries, tourism and other, more sustainable economic activities. The production of Arctic oil and gas contributes even more to the climate crisis through increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Important species are at risk
Offshore oil exploration, drilling and production can threaten the fish and marine mammals that Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic rely on. Whales and other marine mammals are exposed to harmful underwater noise, as they use sound to navigate, find mates, and search for food in dark Arctic waters.
Spill response is slow and cleanup impossible
The Arctic’s marine ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to oil spills from blowouts, pipeline leaks or shipping accidents. The lack of infrastructure and remoteness of the Arctic means it can take days or weeks to respond to a spill. The Arctic has short summers, low temperatures, and limited sunlight, it can take decades for Arctic ocean ecosystems to recover from damage.
Rising temperatures
Drilling for more oil and gas in the Arctic is not compliant with the Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise to less than 1.5°C. Arctic states currently have some of the world’s largest carbon footprints. In 2016, they accounted for more than 21% of global CO2 emissions.
The myth of economic benefits
The costs of drilling for oil in the Arctic don’t make sense. The liability for cleanup and accidents is high compared to the return on any investments and there are few benefits for Arctic communities. Right now, Arctic governments are subsidizing oil and gas production instead of investing those funds into a renewable future.

Our solutions

We urgently need to transition towards a 100% renewable future through the development of clean energy sources. Governments need to finance renewable energy in the Arctic and beyond instead of subsidizing oil and gas.

Switch to renewable energy

We urgently need to transition towards a 100% renewable future through the development of clean energy sources. Governments need to finance renewable energy in the Arctic and beyond instead of subsidizing oil and gas.

©Brian Abeling / CC BY NC
We lack the demonstrated ability to respond to and effectively contain or clean up major oil spills in the Arctic. Arctic spills can contaminate local environments for decades, and effectively wipe out local populations of certain species, affecting local livelihoods and food security.

No new development without effective spill response

We lack the demonstrated ability to respond to and effectively contain or clean up major oil spills in the Arctic. Arctic spills can contaminate local environments for decades, and effectively wipe out local populations of certain species, affecting local livelihoods and food security.

©ARLIS
Ecologically valuable areas, like the Lofoten and Vesteraalen islands of coastal Norway,  the West Kamchatka Shelf in Russia, and the waters of Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas should be permanently withdrawn from offshore oil and gas development.

Protect ecologically valuable areas

Ecologically valuable areas, like the Lofoten and Vesteraalen islands of coastal Norway, the West Kamchatka Shelf in Russia, and the waters of Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas should be permanently withdrawn from offshore oil and gas development.

©Shutterstock
We’re asking industry to keep seismic testing, which can damage the hearing of marine mammals, far from key wildlife habitat.

Quiet the oceans

We’re asking industry to keep seismic testing, which can damage the hearing of marine mammals, far from key wildlife habitat.

©VDOS Global / WWF-Canada

How we work

A quieter ocean for Arctic whales

Whales depend on sound to survive. WWF is working to limit sound pollution in Arctic waters by making parts of the ocean important for whales off limits to particularly loud industrial activities.

Addressing offshore drilling

For more than a decade, WWF has worked to stop offshore oil and gas development that threatens the wildlife and local communities that thrive in the Arctic’s often brutal environment.

Keeping oil out of important areas

WWF is working in Norway to make areas such as Lofoten permanently off limits to oil drilling, because of the natural values of the region, and the economic value of the local fishery.

Promoting marine governance in Russia

WWF promotes marine governance in the Arctic that includes cooperation and biodiversity protection within the Arctic Council. WWF-Russia previously participated in negotiations on legally binding agreement on Oil Spill Response, and following its approval, promotes its implementation in Russia.

Promoting renewable energy

WWF is advocating for renewable energy, and piloting renewable solutions with some Arctic communities.

Reducing the impact of oil and gas in Russia

WWF works to prevent and reduce the negative impact of oil, gas and mining on the Arctic environment by pushing companies to strengthen environmental responsibility and by improving the regulatory framework.

Reducing the oil spill risk

WWF has mapped the enormous potential reach of an oil spill in the Barents Sea.

Publications

The Circle 03.20
The Circle 03.20
5 October 2020
Getting it right in a new ocean - report
Getting it right in a new ocean - report
26 November 2018
Getting it right in a new ocean - summary
Getting it right in a new ocean - summary
25 November 2018
The Circle 04.18
The Circle 04.18
1 October 2018
Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
17 September 2018
The Circle 03.18
The Circle 03.18
17 July 2018
See all 14 publications

Meet the team

WWF-Norway

Advisor, Arctic and Northern Areas

WWF-Canada

Specialist, Arctic oil and gas

WWF Arctic Coordinating Team

Lead Specialist, Sustainable Development

WWF-Russia

Leader, Extractive Industry Programme