Indigenous leaders say BP oil field shutdown is a wake up call

Indigenous leaders say BP oil field shutdown is a wake up call

Support our journalism. Become a Patron!
August 8, 2006

From the Native Movement and REDOIL Network (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands)

For Immediate Release
August 8, 2006

Indigenous leaders say that BP oil field shutdown is a wake up call to the Industry, US, and World:
Energy Crisis, Global Warming, Environmental Devastation, and Indigenous Peoples Rights on the cutting board

BP recently shut down Prudhoe Bay oil field operations, the largest oil producing field in the US, due to detection of severe corrosion along most of its twenty-two mile transit pipeline. The corrosion was discovered only after government ordered inspections following a March pipeline rupture that spilled an estimated 270,000 gallons of oil, the largest recorded spill on the North Slope of Alaska. The Prudhoe Bay field produces about 2.6% of the US daily supply, which equates to approximately 400,000 barrels a day. BP officials apologized to the American public for their negligence and are speculating that it may take weeks or months to correct the problems. But some Indigenous leaders believe that these incidents speak to broader issues facing their communities, the American people, and the world.

In an interview on the PBS Newshour Steve Marshall, president of BP Alaska admitted that a device known as a “smart pig” which tests for damage within the pipeline “has not been run through the pipeline in its history….in operation since 1977.”

“The fact that BP only discovered the corrosion after government ordered inspections is a testament to the negligence and greed in oil industry operations,” states Evon Peter, chairman of Native Movement and former Neetsaii Gwich’in Chief. “ExxonMobil alone announced 36 billion dollars in profits for 2005, while at the same time fighting court ordered payments for damages caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 to Alaskan waters, wildlife, peoples, and coast line. Around the world the Industry standard is one of pressuring governments to allow exploitation of oil in a way that maximizes profits for the industry at the expense of the environment and human rights, in particular those of Indigenous peoples.”

In his State of the Union Address, Bush stated that we as a nation of people are “addicted to oil.” The oil industry and Bush administration make arguments that the solution to our energy needs is to provide more incentive and access for the industry to develop sacred sites and national refuges such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Faith Gemmill, coordinator of the REDOIL Network, differs in her analysis of our situation, “This country must take a good hard look at the current energy situation, theU.S. does not have an energy policy in place that is sustainable for future generations, or a back up plan besides the drill it all mentality. Places such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must remain protected. It makes no sense to cause further harm to the environment that sustains us for a possible six-month supply of US oil consumption. When there is an energy crisis such as this shut down of Prudhoe Bay, it is a wake up call that ought to motivate this country in creating real solutions to our energy needs based on renewable energy and conservation. The American people are victims of the oil and gas industry as fuel price gauging occurs after such incidences. Furthermore, government bodies such as the State of Alaska, which is about 80% funded through oil industry royalties and taxes, practically function as a branch of the oil industry in some regards. This leaves devastation within Indigenous Peoples homelands such as alarming health issues that are tied to pollution of our lands, air, waters, and wildlife.”

The shut down may leave Americans with higher costs at the pump, which will lead to stronger efforts by the oil and gas industry to seek access to more lands within the State of Alaska for oil and gas development such as: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, NPRA Teshepuk Lake, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge as well as areas offshore such as the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bristol Bay region. Industry has been vying to gain access to each of these areas in the State of Alaska despite the fact that many Alaska Natives rely upon these lands to meet their subsistence needs and oppose any sort of development of these areas.

Evon Peter responds, “we need to realize as a nation of people that our consumption of oil is not sustainable. Oil is a finite resource and the longer we rely on oil the more negative impacts we will bring upon human life and the environment. The oil industry practices are tied directly and indirectly to violations of human rights here and abroad. Furthermore, the burning of fossil fuels is the major cause of CO2 emissions that are resulting in global warming. Global warming is leading to shifts in the world environment that are resulting in a significant increase in devastation such as Hurricane Katrina. We have the knowledge, technology, and wealth in North America to make the shift to healthier ways of relating to each other and the earth. Incidents such as the March oil spill and connected shut down of the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska should be taken as a sign that we need to change our ways,” concludes Peter.

The effects of global warming alone include altered weather patterns, more severe storms, erosion of coastal areas, and migratory disruptions of key wildlife resources. These impacts lead to loss of subsistence resources and rights, relocation of communities, and ultimately to negative social statistics related to human and ecological health. Alaska Natives have been calling upon the U.S to create an Energy Policy that will curb these alarming effects of global warming such as renewable energy technology and fuel efficiency standards.

“The fossil fuel industry is leaving a legacy of pollution and destruction in Alaska. Instead of continuing to rely on an irresponsible industry we feel that this is the time for a sustainable and clean energy policy that respects Indigenous rights and will curb our dependence on oil so that when there is a shutdown of supply the U.S. is not left crippled and forced to make bad energy decisions that put our homelands, cultures, livelihood, and health at threat,” concludes Faith Gemmill.

The REDOIL Network and Native Movement are calling upon U.S policy makers to take concrete measures to address the current energy issues. The fact is that we own only 3% of known global oil reserves yet we consume 25% of the World’s energy resources. This alarming statistic displays the imbalance of our supply and demand. The use and reliance on fossil fuels must be curbed now. It is past due for us to initiate renewable energy sources that are ecologically sound and sustainable with minimal impact on Indigenous peoples rights, homelands, and livelihood.

Native Movement is dedicated to healing relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples as well as between human beings and mother earth. We work to implement projects that support the transition to sustainable and healthy livelihoods while helping to protect sacred sites and raise awareness about related issues.

Evon Peter, Native Movement (928) 814-0778 /

The REDOIL Network consists of grassroots Alaska Natives of the Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, Gwich’in, Eyak and Denaiana Athabascan tribes who have formed a network to address the human and ecological health impacts of the unsustainable development practices of the fossil fuel industry in Alaska. The REDOIL Network strongly supports self-determination rights of tribes in Alaska as well as a just transition from fossil fuel development and promotes the implementation of sustainable development on or near Indigenous lands. The REDOIL Network is a project of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Faith Gemmill, REDOIL Network (907) 750-0188 /

(If you wish to be added to the Native Movement listserve send an e-mail to with “Join” written in the Subject field)

We're fighting for our lives

Indigenous Peoples are putting their bodies on the line and it's our responsibility to make sure you know why. That takes time, expertise and resources - and we're up against a constant tide of misinformation and distorted coverage. By supporting IC you're empowering the kind of journalism we need, at the moment we need it most.

independent uncompromising indigenous
Except where otherwise noted, articles on this website are licensed under a Creative Commons License