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Why We Should Be Very Worried About the Arctic Oil Rush

Big oil companies like Shell have a proven record of negligence and a legacy of pollution in Alaska.

Photo Credit: © Wyatt Rivard/Shutterstock.com


I don’t blog. I work all the time, weaving together components of strategy for the people on the frontlines of Alaska who are facing down Big Oil and Mining Companies, and addressing Climate Change. I am also a full time mother, so I rarely have that extra moment to blog. But today I made time, so here it is.

So Shell Oil and the Arctic, hmmm well let’s start with what Shell does and is: This company operates around the world and their Industry standard is one of pressuring governments to allow exploration of oil and gas resources in a way that maximizes profits for them at the expense of the environment and human rights, in particular those of Indigenous peoples. Here in Alaska, We’ve seen nearly every large multi-national company come into our homelands. The problem with their presence here is that these big oil companies like Shell have a proven record of negligence and a legacy of pollution in Alaska. Shell itself is encumbered with their own appalling record of Indigenous rights violations, human rights abuses and a trail of broken promises within Indigenous territories in Canada, Nigeria, and Russia. Despite their own destructive record, they expect that Americans and the Inupiat among other Alaska Indigenous coastal tribes will trust them when it comes to offshore development of the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas? The future of these Oceans and People are in their hands. A scary thought in itself.

First of all, the profit-at-all-cost mentality of corporations is the primary threat to Inupiat and the ecosystem that sustains their way of life. Indigenous peoples subsistence rights are intrinsic to the environment due to the intimate connection we have in relation to our physical nourishment, health, cultural practices, spirituality, and social systems. The reality is, the ecosystem, when left intact, is the greatest assurance that subsistence rights will remain intact. Therefore when there is discussion of ensuring subsistence rights in the terms of development it is an absolute contradiction.

This week members of the Native Village of Point Hope, Alaska and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) attended the Royal Dutch Shell AGM to confront the Chairman and Board over Shell’s decision to pursue highly risky ‘extreme energy’ projects without adequate consultation and accommodation of Indigenous communities. Projects such as Arctic offshore drilling and tar sands will have little long-term benefit for the company, and expose it to reputational damage, political and financial risk, including litigation.

Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL) sent Mae Hank, Inupiat from Point Hope Alaska to be our representative at the Shell AGM to address the Chairman, Board and Shareholders on behalf of her community. We wanted to show Shell that their risky Alaska offshore plans for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas impact Indigenous Peoples, the Inupiat of Alaska directly and all Indigenous coastal communities down the western coastline of Alaska indirectly. Sending Mae was a tactic to put a human face to their drilling projects. We felt that they needed a reality check, to be confronted with the human element, not just a financial statistic of their endeavours. They also need to realize that there is a large majority of Inupiat that oppose Shell’s offshore plans and they should not buy the company line “Inupiat support offshore development” Shell lies.

Shell must understand the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas of the Arctic Ocean are critical to the Indigenous people of Alaska’s Arctic Slope, the Inupiat and their subsistence way of life, which is interdependent with the marine ecosystem of the Arctic Oceans. The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas provide critical habitat for the endangered bowhead whale, beluga whales, gray whales, walruses, seals and polar bears as well as staging and molting areas for migratory birds among them threatened spectacled and Steller’s eiders. The Inupiat call the ocean their garden. It provides for all their physical, spiritual, cultural and social needs. The relationship of the people to the ocean runs deep.

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