USGS Arctic Study Evaluates Science and Knowledge Gaps for OCS Energy Development

Offers recommendations to better inform responsible oil and gas decisions for Beaufort and Chukchi Seas

Last edited 09/05/2019

WASHINGTON – In response to a request from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the U.S. Geological Survey today released the ‘science gap and sufficiency' report evaluating science needed to better inform decisions regarding oil and natural gas exploration and development in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska.

In March, 2010, Secretary Salazar directed the USGS - as part of a comprehensive, science-based approach to energy development on the Outer-Continental Shelf - to perform a study to determine what the science gaps were in Outer Continental Shelf energy development in the Arctic, particularly focusing on the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. That is the study being released today.

“There is significant potential for oil and gas development in U.S. Arctic waters, but this is a frontier area with harsh weather conditions as well as unique fish and wildlife resources that Alaska's indigenous people rely on for subsistence,” Salazar said in announcing release of the report. “To make responsible decisions, we need to understand the environmental and social consequences of development and plan accordingly. This study is helpful in assessing what we know and will help inform determinations about what we need to know to develop our Arctic energy resources in the right places in the right way.”

The report summarizes the large volume of existing scientific information, much of it conducted under the auspices of the Environmental Studies Program of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement; identifies where knowledge gaps exist; and provides initial guidance on new and continuing research that could improve decision-making. More than 50 findings and an equal number of recommendations are contained in the 279-page report, entitled An Evaluation of the Science Needs to Inform Decisions on Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska.

“I want to applaud the USGS team for the very thorough and inclusive way in which they conducted this study of the Arctic,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “They examined more than 400 scientific publications, workshop findings and science policy documents; met with more than 40 individuals and organizations that have research or science assessments on these areas; and held a series of discussions with key stakeholders, including North Slope and Native Alaskan interests, the oil industry, federal agencies, the State of Alaska, and non-governmental organizations.”

Their work demonstrates that extensive scientific information already exists in this area and is proliferating rapidly, McNutt said. “This USGS study provides a significant review of the science available in order to clarify its scope and help us understand what else we need to know and how to get there."

Among the major areas noted in the report where additional scientific research, analysis and synthesis could reduce uncertainties include the following:

  • Developing a better understanding of the effects of climate change on physical, biological and social conditions as well as resource management strategies in the Arctic;
  • Developing foundational geospatial data on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf;
  • Synthesizing existing scientific information on a wide range of topics on the Arctic;
  • Building upon advances in spill-risk evaluation and response knowledge by developing better information on key inputs to spill models (such as oceanographic, weather, and ecological data);
  • Improving dialogue and using collaborative, comprehensive science planning, both domestically and internationally.

A fact sheet on the Arctic study is available at

The report is available at


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