Alaskan Natives Speak Out After Obama Greenlights Oil Drilling Off Alaskan Coast
On October 3, 2011, the Obama administration said it was moving forward with oil-drilling leases off the coast of Alaska issued by the Bush administration in 2008. The leases had been challenged by environmental groups, opposition that gained momentum after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Yet the Interior Department said it would uphold nearly 500 leases issued in the Chukchi Sea, a victory for oil companies in the battle over Arctic Ocean drilling.
Those opposing the leases say there is no proven clean-up method for an oil spill in such harsh terrain and ice-choked waters, and that the environmental assessment done by oil companies for the area is inadequate.
There are also Alaska Natives living off the coast of the Chukchi Sea who worry about how the drilling and its impacts will affect their way of life. One of them is Colleen Swan, a resident of Kivalina, Alaska. Kivalina is a largely Inupiat community on a barrier reef island in the northwest of the state. The island already faces erosion from climate change, and its residents are trying to relocate. In the meantime, they are still dependent on the local environment.
Colleen Swan shared some of her thoughts on the oil leases:
The oil leases, no matter where in the Arctic, will affect all people who live off the wild life from the ocean, because it will disrupt the migrations of sea mammals. Here are some points I like to make when the timing is appropriate:
In the event of an oil spill, the people in coastal communities are the ones whose lives are impacted directly, yet are the ones who are least prepared for such a disaster. These are communities of people who have no means to respond to oil spills to protect their shores and their villages from the oil slick.
The oil companies and the government who issues such permits will continue with business as usual and the oil companies will recover. They have reserves to fall back on. We don’t. Once we lose our livelihood, our subsistence way of life, it’s gone for a long, long time. The ocean will not recover as quickly as the oil companies and neither will the coastal communities.