The Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has spurred renewed global interest in the regulation of offshore oil and gas exploration, particularly in deepwater areas. At the same time, many jurisdictions are experimenting with strategic environmental assessment (SEA) processes to fill gaps in more traditional project-based decision-making processes. This article explores the potential of SEA to enhance decision making for exploration in deepwater environments. It does so by examining the experience with SEAs on the east coast of Canada, and applying the lessons learned to the Beaufort Sea. By looking at the issue in two very different environments, we can draw lessons that may also apply to deepwater exploration elsewhere.