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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005


Defilement of Arctic must not be allowed

By Lance Holter

In a desperate and misguided attempt to deal with a ballooning $427 billion budget deficit, the Bush administration is recommending draconian measures be taken in the current budget bill.

Among those are cuts in funding Medicaid for children, preschool care for working single mothers, food stamps for the working poor, housing and community development programs, student loan programs, support to America's farmers and a variety of other unspecified cuts.

These cutbacks are urged at a time when the war in Iraq will, by the end of the year, have cost the nation $200 billion and untold Iraqi and American casualties. All of this after two years of budget surplus-destroying tax cuts, leaving the legacy of this national debt for generations to come. Now, along with all of this, a rider was attached to the budget bill calling for revenues from oil leasing in Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The National Academy of Sciences on March 4, 2003, released a report detailing the impact of over 30 years of oil and gas development in Alaska. The report detailed significant adverse cultural, social and environmental impacts from oil and gas development and, most importantly, impacts on animals, vegetation and indigenous people who depend on its resources for survival.

The 465-page report, "Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope," outlines how industrial activity has transformed what once was part of the largest intact wilderness area in the United States into a complex of oil fields and their interconnecting roads and pipelines that stretches over 1,000 square miles. This science-based report most resoundingly disputes the myth that a "small footprint" would be left by current oil-recovery technologies.

The report cited numerous impacts:

• Industrial activity conflicts with caribou calving, resulting in the overall reduction of herd productivity.

• Residents reported that traditional subsistence hunting areas were reduced, migratory patterns of caribou changed, incidences of cancer and diabetes increased, and traditional social systems disrupted.

• North Slope Inupiat residents have spoken repeatedly that the huge industrial complex was offensive to the people and an affront to the spirit of the land. They also said further alterations of the Arctic's physical environment have aesthetic, cultural and spiritual effects on native populations.

• Few native people who live in the North Slope Borough are directly employed by the oil and gas industry, a pattern for the past 20 years.

• Inupiat at the Prudhoe Bay industrial complex are a small minority. The primarily white workforce sometimes expresses hostility toward Alaskan natives. The work available to the Inupiat is seen by them as menial or token jobs.

• The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act fundamentally changed the relationship between Alaskan natives and the land they had occupied for thousands of years. The effects of that change accumulate to the present.

What is really at stake with this attempt to slip in a rider to drill the Arctic refuge for a few months supply of oil is a broader agenda that puts all of America's remaining wild and protected places at risk. Individuals such as Rep. Tom Delay, R-Texas, advocate that exploitation of energy resources be allowed in other sensitive areas and to drill the Arctic refuge will set a precedent for resource development in places like the Rocky Mountain Front, the Yellowstone and Teton ecosystems and other sacred places.

All of this destruction of the wilderness when we could invest in fuel-conservation technology and renewable energy for fuel savings that would be ongoing for years to come. Don't let this be on your conscience; please contact your Hawai'i senators and let's get back on the right track.

Lance Holter is the Hawaii Sierra Club conservation chair and Maui Group chair.