The Gulf of Mexico, for example, is generally seen as a mature site for oil. But recent advances allowing offshore rigs to drill deeper has led to discoveries since the mid-1990s that have essentially yielded the equivalent of the amount imported from Saudi Arabia, says Ranger. Natural-gas production there has increased fourfold over the same period.
In the Rocky Mountain states – New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana – the ability to extract natural gas from coal seams and other technological advances mean the region now produces 20 to 25 percent of the nation's gas. That figure could increase to as much as 40 percent by the 2020s.
Until further explorations are made, nobody knows for sure whether the Chukchi lease sale will be equally as productive.
In any case, there's a complicating factor: The lease sale comes as Arctic sea ice has been dwindling at record rates, probably tied to warming caused by climate change. In September, US Geological Survey (USGS) scientists warned that "projected changes in future sea ice conditions, if realized, will result in loss of approximately two-thirds of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century."
"Because the observed trajectory of Arctic sea ice decline appears to be underestimated by currently available models, this assessment of future polar bear status may be conservative," USGS reported.
All the more reason not to further interfere with polar habitat, environmentalists say, since the bears rely on sea ice for hunting and denning. "The chances for the continued survival of this icon of the Arctic will be greatly diminished if its remaining critical habitat is turned into a vast oil and gas field," says Margaret Williams, managing director of the World Wildlife Fund's Kamchatka and Bering Sea program.