Study the Science: Overview

In February 2008, ConocoPhillips, Shell Exploration & Production and Statoil USA Exploration and Production obtained leases in the federal waters of the Chukchi Sea, and immediately began an integrated ecosystem-based environmental studies program to gather baseline, or pre-exploration, data.

ConocoPhillips operated the program during the open-water seasons of 2008 and 2009 on behalf of itself and Shell. Beginning in 2010, Olgoonik/Fairweather LLC operated CSESP on behalf of ConocoPhillips, Shell, and Statoil.

Program Goals

The overall purpose of the study is to provide to ConocoPhillips, Shell, and Statoil necessary baseline information about the Chukchi Sea marine environment that can be used in permit applications, a National Environmental Policy Act compliance document, and in other documents to help manage these resources. The study will provide valuable information for the regulatory agencies to conduct realistic evaluations on the potential impacts of oil and gas activities and thus issue permits with reasonable stipulations and guidance. Importantly, it will also contribute to the overall knowledge of the northeastern Chukchi Sea marine ecosystem.

Science Disciplines and Study Areas

The studies program comprises multiple marine ecosystem disciplines including: physical oceanography, chemical oceanography, plankton ecology, benthic ecology (infaunal and epibenthic communities), seabird ecology, marine mammal ecology, pelagic and demersal fishes, and the hydroacoustic environment. In 2008 and 2009, the program consisted of two prospect-specific study areas for ConocoPhillips and Shell. In 2010, another prospect-specific study area was added as Statoil became an additional program sponsor.

The program expanded in 2011 and 2012 to become a regional survey encompassing the three prospect-specific study areas, plus Hanna Shoal to the north. The study design was based on the systematic-sample and transect grids used in 2008-2010, but on a coarser scale to cover a greater area in a shorter amount of time. To allow for data continuity, the prospect-specific study areas remained at the finer transect scale. In 2013, the focus returned to the three prospect-specific study areas and a DBO (Distributed Biological Laboratory) monitoring line from the study areas to the coast.  The 2014 sampling approach changed to become a series of monitoring lines (4 perpendicular to the coast and 2 parallel to the coast) that followed the sampling grid and was able to reuse some of the stations sampled previously.

The future of CSESP

Future studies in the lease areas may involve additional collaborators including, but not limited to: the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the North Pacific Research Board, the National Marine Fisheries Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, United States Geological Survey, Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, Alaska Beluga Whale Committee, Ice Seal Commission, and the Alaska Eskimo Walrus Commission.