Alaska News

Push for offshore drilling disregards ocean, culture

The 9th Circuit Court recently declared the federal decision to allow drilling in the Beaufort Sea was illegal. I am a member of REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands), a plaintiff in the case. I live in Kaktovik and I am Inupiaq.

I can see the Beaufort Sea from my house. As I look into the vastness of the ocean, I am very concerned about our environment. The Inupiat culture has thrived here for thousands of years. Our culture depends on a clean ocean, and the ocean environment is so interrelated with our subsistence lifestyle.

Currently we're dealing with multinational interests encroaching on land adjacent to us and into the oceans Inupiat depend on. Government agencies and corporations have no capacity to feel as we do about this area. Approval of this latest push for offshore oil exploration has occurred swiftly with little regard for the environment or our whaling culture.

Our concerns and questions remain unaddressed. The industry determined the course and the federal government rubber-stamped their proposals. What about the cumulative impacts? What are the long-range plans for leases on approximately 700 miles of the Arctic Ocean? The environmental assessments completed covered only a small fraction of this. Have oil toxicity studies been done? Is there a baseline evaluation of wildlife? Will climate change issues and concerns be addressed? The threats to 16 endangered or threatened species and their imperiled habitat have to be addressed by law.

The industry has alluded to some capacity to clean up oil in broken ice, but the question of how oil spills under ice will be cleaned up remains. The current oil spill cleanup methods for broken-ice conditions are a joke. This would include the use of dispersants. The industry proposes to use toxic chemicals to make other toxic materials disappear!

Air quality issues are addressed in a manner to minimize costs rather than take measures to minimize impacts. Consider the Alpine oil field and the air quality at Nuiqsut, which is in question due to increased respiratory problems of community members. We need not accept continual degradation of our health and air quality, especially to increase the bottom line.

This is a great country with many good laws. No longer do people have to ride in the back of the bus. Inupiat do not have to be disregarded when it comes to environmental laws.


We have the right to continue our culture and subsistence way of life. We must be involved in preserving what we've had for thousands of years. The Gwich'in have similar concerns with development of the Arctic Refuge. If we wish to preserve our culture by preserving our environment, we must also support them, or be looked upon as hypocritical.

The balance of our land is compromised already by climate change, which is caused by excessive burning of fossil fuels. We have hardly any musk ox; polar bears are imperiled; the Porcupine caribou herd is down more than 50,000 animals; birds are in decline; yet they clamor, "Drill, baby, drill."

Change is needed. I believe alternative energy is a viable solution. Alaska Natives can lead the efforts. We have an abundance of wind, tidal and geothermal energy that can replace most petroleum energy sources. REDOIL opposes unsustainable fossil fuel development, because we see the consequences burdening Alaska Natives. We advocate alternative energy and a just transition to sustainable jobs, energy and environment. We envision sustainable economic solutions for our communities.

If government agencies and Shell Oil cannot answer the question of whether oil spills can be cleaned up in the Arctic Ocean, then offshore development should not happen. I invite Gov. Palin and the CEO of Shell Oil to answer this question.

Robert Thompson is a subsistence hunter who lives in Kaktovik.


Robert Thompson

Robert Thompson is an Inupiaq hunter who lives with his wife in Kaktovik, and runs trips in the refuge through the business he founded and owns, Kaktovik Arctic Adventures. He is a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.