Offshore Oil & Gas Activities Threaten Alaska’s Indigenous Peoples Cultural Survival
January 26, 2012
As the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission meets with expert Scientific Advisors today to hear about the impacts of oil and gas development in the Arctic; Tribes, indigenous peoples and water advocates voice their opposition to offshore oil and gas activities. The scientists, traditional indigenous elders, and Tribal governments have clearly stated the need for more research and long-term planning to identify baseline information and cumulative impacts on the coastal and marine ecosystems. A precautionary approach is necessary when federal agencies such as National Marine Fisheries Service evaluate requests for incidental takes of endangered and threatened marine mammals such as the endangered Bowhead and Cook Inlet beluga whales
The groups are concerned about the adverse, disproportionate, cumulative impacts of oil and gas activities on indigenous peoples, tribal citizens and Alaska Native villages. Federal Agencies are permitting offshore oil and gas exploration and development in science-deprived, marine ecosystems without addressing the cumulative impacts of oil spills, effluent discharge, drilling mud disposal, methane and other gas releases, physical habitat disruption, ship strikes, chronic acoustical impacts and other industrial associated activities that follow exploration, development and production of oil and gas.
The groups urge the state and federal regulatory authorities to learn lessons from the Deepwater Horizon oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico so that such disasters are not repeated in Alaska. They argue that management agencies need to stop attempting to weaken Alaska’s relatively strong oil and gas regulations as hydrocarbon exploration and extraction activities offshore involve inherent risks, particularly, in the icy waters of the Arctic and Cook Inlet where environmental impacts are poorly understood or as yet unknown.
The groups also point to the fact that aggregated and chronic industrial acoustics are the least understood impacts on marine sea life and subsistence species, such as the endangered bowhead whale, and critically endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale.
“The well-being and health of the plants and animals in the aquatic and marine ecosystem are related to the well-being and health of the indigenous peoples whose culture and identity are intrinsically connected with the traditional tribal economies derived from the ecosystem.” Carl Wassilie, Yup’iaq Biologist. “A large oil spill like the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill will severely disrupt and destroy cultural resources and cultural survival in such a sensitive environment like the Arctic and sub-Arctic.”
The actions by federal agencies to allow offshore drilling in the Arctic will cause irreversible harm to hundreds of indigenous communities with the inevitable harm upon subsistence resources by all phases of resource extraction. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill 22 years ago is a case example of an oil company telling folks that a very large oil spill will never happen; yet when it did, the people that survived the on-going catastrophe continue to suffer from lies, deceit and outright violations of human dignity and rights to subsistence.
Delice Calcote says,” Alaska Inter-Tribal Council has standing resolution 2005-08 opposing outer continental shelf oil and gas activities in the Outer Continental Shelf. Oil and gas mineral exploration & development activities pose an imminent threat to hundreds of coastal Tribal communities’ customary traditional cultural life ways of hunting, fishing, gathering,harvesting, barter, trade and navigation.
The North Pacific Right Whale has been observed in lower Cook Inlet and no Oil and Gas Activities, including Lease sales should be permitted in Cook Inlet until the status of this whale is fully documented by Traditional Knowledge experts and independent assessments by experts.