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Alaska Natives, ecologists oppose oil drilling in Chukchi Sea

by on February 5, 2008
 
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Last week, a coalition of indigenous people and environmental groups filed a lawsuit aimed at halting the massive oil drilling project in the Chukchi Sea.

Consisting of the Native Village of Point Hope, the City of Point Hope, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope (ICAS), Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), as well as The Wilderness Society and the Center for Biological Diversity, among several others – the coalition argues that the U.S. Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) should not have gone ahead with it’s recent decision to open up bidding to oil and gas companies because they failed to address a number of key issues.

It is a failure that seems to have been deliberate. A recent news release by part of the coalition explains that the Interior department,

[...] has apparently ignored warnings by their own scientists that the agency “failed to fully assess the potential impacts of a lease sale in the area. The administration has also been criticized internationally for blocking scientists’ policy recommendations in a recent report on drilling by the eight-nation Arctic Council.”

One such concern, according to Kristen Miller, the legislative director for Alaska Wilderness League,
is “the substantial likelihood of oil spills in the Chukchi Sea,” something the MMS admits to, says Kristen. “There is no proven method to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic’s broken sea ice, or even to reliably clean up a spill in open water,” she adds.

In addition to the risk of spills, they also refused to acknowledge the impact oil and gas drilling will have on marine and mammal life in the Chukchi Sea.

The Chukchi Sea [is home] to one-tenth of the world’s polar bears, along with walruses and endangered bowhead whales. Polar bears are currently under consideration for listing as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Earlier this month, the Interior Department announced it would delay its decision on whether or not to list the bear for approximately one month. The delay allows just enough time for the Chukchi lease sale to move forward on February 6.

The needs and interests of the region’s Indigenous People are also being ignored.

A recent article by the Indigenous Environmental Network quotes Jack Schaefer, President of the Native Village of Point Hope:

“We’ve hunted and fished in the ocean since time immemorial. We have always believed that we own the ocean and that it is our garden. We can’t afford to stop our religious, cultural and subsistence activities that depend on the ocean. The ocean is what our history and upon which our culture are based.”

George Edwardson, President of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope (ICAS) adds:

“The Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope is the regional tribal government for eight villages on the North Slope. We have a responsibility to our people to stand up against threats to our whaling culture and to protect our way of life. An oil spill in the Chukchi Sea could devastate the bowhead whale migration and other animals we have subsisted on for thousands of years. MMS continues to ignore our concerns. The elders have spoken and told us to fight this and we will do so through this lawsuit”

The Elders, specifically the Point Hope Elders Advisory Council, just recently passed a resolution supporting the legal challenge. They also ask “all Inupiaq people to join us in our opposition to leasing the Chukchi Sea to oil and gas exploration and development. Help us protect our garden and the way of life we all share.”

What You Can Do

The MMS seems more than determined to push this project forward regardless of the dangers it implies, but that’s no reason to keep quiet about it. So, if you would like to speak up and add your voice among the thousands of others opposed to this oil and gas development scheme, here is a petition you can sign: No Offshore Drilling in Polar Bear Habitat!. You can also send a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, urging him to delay the planned February 6th sale of oil and gas drilling rights.

Contacts

Jack Schaefer, Native Village of Point Hope, 907-368-2235
Steve Oomittuk, City of Point Hope, 907-368-2537
George Edwardson, ICAS, 907-852-3746
Faith Gemmill, REDOIL-IEN, 907-750-0188 redoil1@acsalaska.net

Eric Jorgensen, Earthjustice, (907) 586-2751 ericj@earthjustice.org (legal defense of Indigenous People)
Kristen Miller, Alaska Wilderness League, (202) 544-5205
Eleanor Huffines, Wilderness Society, 907-272-9453 eleanor_huffines@tws.org

   
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