Oil development will ruin Alaskan arctic refuge

Feb 25, 2002 01:00 AM

Sen. Daniel Akaka's wishful claim that oil development of the public Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is possible runs counter to science, recent history and the knowledge of native Gwich'in Athabascan elders. President Eisenhower established America's Arctic National Wildlife Range (ANWR) in 1960, and no oil drilling can occur there unless authorized by Congress, which holds the power to protect or corrupt the refuge. This world-class treasure will be centre stage in the Senate floor debate on national energy policy.
The House's narrow passage of an antiquated fossil-energy plan, opposed by Reps. Patsy Mink and Neil Abercrombie, makes Hawaii's Senate votes pivotal. In their national policy paper, "Principles for Energy Prosperity," Democrats overwhelmingly reject President Bush's notion that America must sacrifice the environment to maximize production, and oppose his plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas, supporting instead a new natural gas pipeline.

Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska, kicking off his Republican campaign for governor, proposes to industrialize the refuge so oil revenues will expand the state's $ 24 bn permanent fund and the annual $ 1,800 dividend paid to residents who have never have a state income tax. The myth that central arctic caribou herds were unharmed by past Prudhoe Bay oil developments was dispelled in a March letter by 507 scientists.
They concluded real problems are masked by mild winters and wolf shootings, that the refuge calving zone, where 130,000 caribou feed while escaping predators and mosquitoes, is one-fifth Prudhoe's size, since mountains surround this narrow plain. Their warnings document that drilling would vastly reduce caribou nursery grounds and that permanent wilderness protection for ANWR is needed.

In recent years as Congress repeatedly debated drilling, Gwich'in leaders have visited Hawaii asking citizens to help save their livelihood, thus, in 1995 the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, "having met with and heard the views of representatives of both native groups bordering the public lands of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and while reserving judgement on their planned use of their respective lands... strongly supports the position of the Gwich'in people on prohibiting oil development and exploration in the public Refuge to protect the birthplace of the Porcupine Caribou herd."
In coastal villages like Kaktovik, diets mainly depend on marine mammals, not terrestrial caribou, and Inupiat oppose offshore drilling, expecting it would disrupt bowhead whale migrations. For subsistence they use only 10 % of migratory caribou food resources and cannot reasonably dominate decision-making on ANWR's 1.5 mm public acres, but they have stewardship on their own 4.5 mm acres.

Just as taro farmers rely on steady stream waters, Gwich'in villagers rely on a steady stream of caribou along ancient pathways. Hawaii must help in their pleas to prevent an onslaught of developments, oil spills and toxic waste. Under legal agreements with Canada, the United States has committed to joint care of shared wild-life for all 15 native villages around the border.
Household incomes for Gwich'in villages average $ 10,000, while Inupiat incomes average $ 50,000. Still, the Inupiat people's Arctic Slope Regional Corp. (ASRC) desire even more revenues than the $ 1 bn grossed for 2000. We urge Senators Akaka and Inouye to work for a land exchange to provide ASRC other subsurface rights under National Petroleum Reserve lands with proven mineral wealth, well outside the refuge, which defends existing subsistence rights, rather than support risky drilling.

America should seek energy independence by developing alternative energy resources and conservation programs. These actions are in the spirit of Hawaiian conservation values and ethics. Rights of all peoples can be recognized and environmental balance maintained by continuing the ban on oil development in the public Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."
In 1995, Murkowski arranged a study tour to Inupiat villages, but excluded Gwich'in villages. Akaka, though repeatedly invited, has not yet visited Gwich'in villages to learn from people most dependent on the well-being of the refuge's far ranging caribou herd. Senators must consider equally the needs of both native peoples by meeting with Gwich'in in their villages. We urge Akaka, as a former teacher, to consider this Hawaiian wisdom: "A'ohe pau ka 'ike i ke halau ho'ökahi. All knowledge is not taught in the same school."

Source: Honolulu Star-Bulletin
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