My Turn: ANWR, oil and Native people

Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Laura Martinson raises interesting points in her My Turn regarding potential oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). It is an eye-opening experience to be living in Kaktovik, the only community within the 1002 area of ANWR, the focus of oil development interest. In the long-term, ANWR development will do little to replace welfare and subsistence with jobs and subsistence as indicated by Ms. Martinson.

There has been virtually no sustainable economic development here as a consequence of two decades of oil development next door in Prudhoe Bay. Oil money invested by the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and the North Slope Borough has not created sustainable jobs here in Kaktovik. Only now, at enormous expense, are we getting water and sewer services, being installed by heavy equipment humming outside my classroom as I write this. Will this infrastructure bring in sustainable businesses? Doubtful at best.

There is significant concern here that residents of Kaktovik could suffer severe social and domestic problems if ANWR is developed, as happened in nearby Nuiqsut due to oil development in Prudhoe Bay. Even Arctic Power, the state-funded lobby for ANWR development, was honest enough to post this concern as part of the results of a survey conducted in Kaktovik. Even though there is considerable support for ANWR development within Kaktovik, this is by no means unanimous, and even some strong supporters have serious reservations.

Regarding the potential consequences to the Porcupine caribou herd, Ms. Martinson's comparison of our local circumstances to the data recorded for the Central Arctic caribou herd is a comparison of apples to oranges. The competent scientists who have studied both herds for decades are quite worried that oil development in ANWR is a serious threat to reproductive success of our local Porcupine caribou herd, precisely because of what the data regarding both herds indicates.

The most pressing concern for many people in Kaktovik, is that they be guaranteed a seat at the table when issues regarding their homeland are discussed. They often feel left out of important decision-making. That must be rectified. This is their homeland, and they rightfully should have a central role with respect to any local development, and this role should include some oversight capacity if development proceeds.

• Bob Woolf teaches math and science in Kaktovik at Harold Kaveolook School. He is a former member of the Juneau Energy Advisory Committee.

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