"Crime Scene": Oil Industry Vultures Pick Over Alaska
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The following is Part II of an excerpt from Greg Palast's "Vultures' Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores." In Part 1, published here, journalist Greg Palast meets Etok, "the unofficial and at times the official sovereign of this polar territory," of Northern Alaska, who's waging battle against brutal multinational corporate forces. Part II starts off with Palast flying off to "Dead Horse" -- land taken over by the oil industry. (for a copy of Vulture's Picnic, click here.)
From Kaktovik, I flew with Etok into Dead Horse, whose prettified name, Prudhoe Bay, graces the BP/Exxon/Shell field, including the drilling rigs balanced on fake islands and the giant machinery that stuffs the crude into the pipeline for its ride to Valdez.
Etok looked down, his jaw clenched, and I could see history taking another bite of his heart. “A crime scene,” he said.
In 1969, a New Mexico oilman and rancher, R. O. Anderson, discovered oil here and staked his claim. His “discovery” was quite some news to the North Slope Eskimos, who had been burning crude oil for centuries while the United States was still burning whales. Anderson’s claim stake, in the name of his company, ARCO, also came as a surprise to the Natives, who already owned the land.
Now if it had been the other way around, if an Eskimo had “discovered” R.O.’s cows on R.O.’s ranch and decided to ship the meat to the Arctic, we’d call it cattle rustling, thievery. And we’d call his property a crime scene.
Etok’s “Pleistocene” people had been digging oil for millennia, and since 1873, drilling for it. Etok’s dad, from whom he inherited the Arctic’s most experienced harpoon, was an engineer in the oil field during World War II, helping to pull up the Natives’ crude for the U.S. Navy to fuel the defense against the expected invasion from Japan. The Navy never paid the $84 million it owes for this oil. (Etok, not surprisingly, vows to collect it.)
In 1970, not long after R.O.’s ARCO grabbed the North Slope drilling rights, the Arab oil embargo shot oil prices through the ceiling and made R. O. Anderson, “owner” of Prudhoe Bay, richer, by my estimate, than God. That wasn’t enough. Anderson’s “discovery” at Dead Horse would be worth even more if only he could get it to Japan.
Japan? A geography lesson is required here. In Mrs. Gordon’s sixth-grade class, Alaska was that big-ass square in the upper left corner of the pull-down map of the United States hanging above the blackboard. Alaska had a strip of dots to the left of the square, the Aleutian Islands, the Ice Age stepping stones the Pleistocene hunters walked across from Russia. And there was a long thing hanging from it, a peninsula that looks like a hose dripping down to the Lower 48 states. You could almost see Alaska’s succulent resources draining into our puny little states below Canada.
That’s the deal, isn’t it? We bought Alaska from the Russians and now we can suck on that fat straw, chug down the crude like a frat boy on his back getting wasted on a hose from a keg of beer.
But look at a globe, not a flat map. Turn it so that the Arctic, not the equator, is pointing at you. Think of the North Pole as the nipple, Alaska as what- ever. What you’ll see is that oil-starved Nagasaki is only two thousand miles from Alaska (that’s why the Emperor chose it as the invasion route), a thousand miles closer than the refineries in California.