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Opposition emerges in village close to proposed North Slope oil project

The village of Nuiqsut in the winter of 1999. (ERIK HILL / ADN archive)

A proposed North Slope oil production project is facing opposition from a nearby village, with some people expressing concern it could affect hunting and fishing.

Planning commissioners in the village of Nuiqsut declined to support a rezoning proposal for the so-called Nanushuk oil production project, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Tuesday.

The development by Papua New Guinea-based Oil Search Ltd. could produce 120,000 barrels of oil per day, or about a quarter of the current flow through the trans-Alaska pipeline, officials said.

The village of 450 residents is within 7 miles of the Nanushuk project and the proposed ConocoPhillips Willow gravel mine, and 8 miles from the $1.3 billion ConocoPhillips Alpine project.

The Nuiqsut commission’s vote is not binding but the North Slope Borough assembly is expected to take up the issue next month, officials said.

Many Nuiqsut residents support continuing oil development, citing the financial benefits and quality-of-life improvements the industry has brought to the village. But some commissioners representing other area communities were persuaded to vote against the Nanushuk resolution by testimony from Nuiqsut residents, said Sam Kunaknana, Nuiqsut’s borough representative.

Residents are concerned about oil development impacts on the fish they catch and the caribou they hunt, Kunaknana said.

"It's not just one project," Kunaknana said. "It's everything that's going on around this area."

Oil Search spokeswoman Amy Jennings Burnett declined to comment.

The oil companies are likely to pay close attention to the planning commission, said Tim Bradner, a journalist and former BP employee.

“And they would be very concerned about making sure that their relationships are good with the local people up there,” he said. “Because unlike in a lot of places, the North Slope is a place where the local people really do have clout.”

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