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Photos: Oil, infrastructure and promises on Alaska's North Slope

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  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published August 30, 2012

Alaska's Native population remains far different from most of America. The skins of dead animals still hang outside many a house. An urban environmentalist would be horrified. But inside those houses are people who want much of what everyone in the country wants -- a better life, a comfortable life, a life free from worries about how you feed yourself tomorrow.

It takes money to create such a life. And oil brings money, along with promises of more money.

It also brings great risks.

Former North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta talked about the promises and risks at the end of the Arctic Imperative Summit in Anchorage and Girdwood in late August.

He said that as mayor, he thought it his job to negotiate with the oil companies to get the best deal for the region as offshore oil exploration moved toward possible development. As the former mayor, he added, he's not so sure he's going to stick with that position. He doesn't like the threat oil poses to the animals he hunts.

As Alaska Archdeacon Hudson Stuck observed about life in the Arctic more than 100 years ago, everything is all right as long as it is all right.

Most of the people who live on Alaska's North Slope seem to accept that. Some number of those who live outside Alaska do not. They see only the risks. That is an easy thing to see for someone living comfortable in a city anywhere. Oil spills are ugly and emotionally painful disasters, and anywhere there is oil, there is the chance of oil being spilled.

"By opening the Arctic to offshore oil drilling, President Obama has made a monumental mistake that puts human life, wildlife and the environment in terrible danger," Rebecca Noblin, the Alaska director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release Thursday. "The harsh and frozen conditions of the Arctic make drilling risky, and an oil spill would be impossible to clean up."

The latter claims are arguably true. Most of the people in Wainwright seem to understand that, too.

But what, they wonder, are the economic alternatives to drilling?

--Craig Medred

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