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The sacred and the drilled Proponents ‘drooling’ to open Arctic Refuge

Guest columnist

Once again, the oil industry’s one-trick spin ponies began chompin’ at the Arctic Refuge bit as soon as there was trouble a-brewing at Prudhoe Bay. “Drill in the Arctic Refuge” is the mantra they live by and repeat at every opportunity. Never mind that the mess in Prudhoe Bay is just that – a mess. So they want to bring the same scenario to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

They consistently return to the table with empty baggage – devoid of visionary thinking and redundantly full of their perennial misconceived Arctic Refuge “solution.” But there are no real solutions from these supposed conservatives in terms of conservation or even marginally-improved CAFE (corporate automobile fuel efficiency) standards. Elementary school children understand that if you only have 3 cents (3 percent of the world’s oil supply) and spend 25 cents (25 percent of the world’s oil supply), it does not add up. Yet the oil proponents keep coming up with the same “nonsolution” to drill in the Arctic Refuge, and they keep saying it over and over as if they are praying to some god that will magically fill up the genie’s lamp – and the taxpayers’ supersized gas tanks.

Knee-jerk tactics and tedious, inflammatory words are like worn-out tunes used incessantly against those with valid concerns for environmental health and basic human rights of the peoples of the Gwich’in Nation. Protecting the Sacred Place Where Life Begins – the calving and nursery grounds of the porcupine caribou herd – is the unified stand the people of the Gwich’in Nation have stood by and reaffirmed since 1988. The porcupine caribou herd provides the basis of the cultural context for life in the Gwich’in Nation, which has stewarded and shared its history and stories with the herd for hundreds of uninterrupted generations. Drilling in the Arctic Refuge will threaten the entire context of the life of the caribou and the Gwich’in Nation.

Drilling activity in the Prudhoe Bay oil fields has repeatedly demonstrated that natural areas are at risk – an average of 504 spills annually, mismanagement of safety regulations and insufficient monitoring. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has documented 4,352 spills between 1996 and 2004, totaling more than 1.9 million gallons of toxic substances. Vast areas of the North Slope of Alaska are already available to development, whereas the ANWR is virtually the last 5 percent of the North Slope that is off-limits to development. In June, 40,000 – 50,000 caribou calves were born in the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge, right where the proponents of drilling are drooling to drill. The feeding frenzy salivates around Section 1002 – the one section of public land that was set aside for further study of its development potential AND for its wilderness values. The 1002 area cannot be developed without the consent of Congress.

So far, sound science and good sense have prevailed; but the news of British Petroleum’s mismanagement and resultant shutdown on the North Slope has raised oil fever to a feverish pitch. Let us not rush to judgment and ruin what is left in America’s Arctic, or sacrifice the culture and human rights of the Gwich’in Nation for a penny at the pump 10 years from now.

<i>Luci Beach is the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee mandated to protect the calving and nursery grounds of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on behalf of the Gwich’in Nation.