In the past 30 years, Exxon, British Petroleum, Conoco and other multinational oil corporations have turned over 1,000 square miles of Alaska’s North Slope into an industrialized oil field maze that includes:
- 500 miles of roads and pipelines
- More than 200 exploration and production gravel drilling pads
- 4,800 exploratory and production oil and gas wells
- Largest concentration of gas turbines in the world
- 28 oil processing facilities, power plants, refineries, etc.
- 36 gravel mines
- 2 jet airports and numerous airstrips
Their record of environmental abuse ranges from the largest oil disaster in American history to the daily despoiling of Alaska’s land.
The devastating 11-million-gallon Exxon Valdez oil spill befouled 1,500 miles of shoreline along Prince William Sound, an area as vast as the distance from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Sixteen years later, much of the Sound’s wildlife still show little or no sign of recovering, including the region’s sea otters, harbor seals, orca whales, Pacific herring, marbled murrelets, harlequin ducks, pigeon guillemots and three species of cormorants.
The oil industry continues its record of wreckage. Consider that on the North Slope:
- 95% of the area is already open to exploration or development by the oil industry;
- 70,000 tons of nitrogen oxides pollute the air each year, more that twice the amount emitted in Washington, DC;
- 500 spills of crude oil, other petroleum products and dozens of other toxic substances occur annually, adding up to 1.9 million gallons spills since 1996;
The National Academy of Sciences documented major negative impacts from oil development on wildlife, the land, and Native American cultures across extensive areas of the North Slope.
Their study, Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska’s North Slope (2003), concluded oil development harmed wildlife and habitats in many ways:
- Major cumulative impacts to caribou, grizzly and polar bears, waterfowl and shorebirds, and endangered bowhead whales;
- The Porcupine Caribou Herd is the most vulnerable to human-caused and natural stresses of all the caribou herds in Alaska;
- Natural recovery of tundra is very slow, “it is unlikely that most disturbed habitat on the North Slope will ever be restored.”
The National Academy of Sciences study documented harm to Alaska Native hunting, fishing and the land upon which they depend:
- “The committee heard repeatedly from North Slope Inupiat residents that the imposition of a huge industrial complex on the Arctic landscape was offensive to the people and an affront to the spirit of the land.”
- “The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANSCA) fundamentally changed the relationship between North Slope Alaska Natives and the environment they had occupied for thousands of years. The effects of that change accumulate to the present.”
- “North Slope residents also reported that traditional subsistence hunting areas have been reduced, the behavior and migratory patterns of key subsistence species have changed, and that there is increased incidence of cancer and diabetes and disruption of traditional social systems.”
- “…There are subtle changes in species harvested by subsistence hunters, who have identified changes in the color, texture, and taste of the flesh and skin of several species.”
- “Alaska Natives told the committee that anxiety over increasing offshore and onshore oil and gas activity is wide-spread in North Slope communities. Hunters worry about not being able to provide for their families or about the added risk and expense of doing so if game is more difficult to find… They worry about contamination of the food they consume and know that their health will suffer if they are unable to eat as their ancestors did”
The National Academy of Sciences also reported health and social impacts from oil and gas development and few jobs for local Alaska Natives:
- “In addition to stress contributing to adverse health effects, oil development has increased the smog and haze near some villages, which residents believe is causing an increase in asthma. The stress of integrating a new way of life with generations of traditional teachings has increased alcoholism, drug abuse, and child abuse. Higher consumption of non-subsistence food…has increased the incidence of diabetes.”
- “That few who live in the North Slope Borough are directly employed by the oil and gas industry has been noted for almost two decades… and is supported by findings of both the NSB survey … and the Alaska Department of Labor.”
- “In addition, Inupiat at Prudhoe Bay find they are a small minority in a primarily white workforce that can sometimes express hostility toward Alaska Natives. The jobs available to the Inupiat often are seen by them as menial or as token jobs.”
The National Academy of Sciences noted the major concerns of the Gwich’in regarding subsistence resources and their culture:
- “The Gwich’in believe that oil and gas-related activities there [in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] would affect the reproductive potential and migration patterns of the Porcupine Caribou herd and as a result threaten their way of life. As with the Inupiaq concerns about offshore development, the beliefs are intense and widespread and themselves constitute a continuing effect that is exacerbated by the past and current political debate over development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge… The threats accumulate because there have been repeated attempts to develop the area and there is continuing pressure to do so.”