Alaskan Voices Will Not Be Silenced By Big Oil

Dj Tyson, Arctic Program Assistant
Date: February 5, 2018

For many Alaskans, the ocean is part of who they are. The state’s 40,000 miles of coastline is dotted with small Alaska Native communities that depend on the marine environment for their way of life.

These subsistence hunters catch and harvest fish, polar bear, birds and their eggs, crab, walruses, seals, and whales. These animals are not only their food, but also their culture, and in many cases, one of the few forms of employment available.

Yet the Trump Administration wants to open up Alaskan waters to oil and gas development, threatening the health of the very waters these communities depend on.

The administration claims that it will listen to the voices of these communities, but it has already shown its intention to ignore them. In 2016, President Obama signed an executive order that called for the creation of a tribal advisory council and established that it would be policy to “recognize and value the participation of Alaska Native tribal governments” in the region.

Alaska Native communities rely on traditional subsistence methods for food security and survival in remote Alaska. The Trump administration shows no intention of listening to their concerns about proposed new offshore drilling in Alaska. Credit: Alaska Jack, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

But earlier this year, President Trump revoked that executive order, sparking confusion and condemnation from Native groups that had supported the original order. The Bering Sea Elders Group, which represents 39 tribes, recently published an op-ed in the Anchorage Daily News, stating “President Trump’s action is an attempt to silence our local Alaska voices.”

If the Trump administration really were to listen to community voices, here are some of the things they might hear:

Alaska is warming twice as fast as the Lower 48. Decreasing sea ice is making way for new shipping routes, bringing large ships to new areas where they disrupt marine life and elevate risks for collisions with local hunters in comparatively tiny boats. We don’t need to add oil rigs to the mix.

The Trump Administration’s proposal to open nearly all Alaskan waters to oil and gas leasing threatens critical wildlife habitat and Alaska Native subsistence areas. Credit: BOEM

The proposed leasing areas threaten critical wildlife habitat. The rocky coastlines of the hundreds of islands in Southeast Alaska provide crucial bird habitat, with some colonies numbering in the thousands. Critical habitat for Steller sea lions lies within at least five areas proposed for leasing, while Pacific walrus habitat stretches across four proposed areas. Drilling in the Cook Inlet may affect critical habitat for an endangered population of beluga whales. Another population migrates back and forth off the Arctic coast, an area that would be affected by six lease sales.

If a spill did occur, the impacts would be catastrophic: The cold water and presence of ice would render chemical dispersants ineffective, the notorious high winds and waves of Bering Sea storms would make oil controlling booms ineffective, response teams would likely be hours or days away, and they may have to contend with severe weather and freezing temperatures.

The coast of Alaska is precious. Its marine environment provides one of the greatest — if not the greatest — sustainable resources in the state. It is part of who we are as Alaskans. And its diversity of wildlife and beauty draws visitors from all across the world.

An oil spill in the Arctic would be nearly impossible to clean up, causing lasting damage to the marine environment and iconic wildlife, like polar bears.

Don’t let the Trump Administration try to silence your voice again. Sign Pacific Environment’s #ProtectOurCoast petition to tell the Trump administration that you want to protect Alaska’s ocean life and coastal communities from dangerous and unnecessary offshore oil drilling.

In addition, you can attend the BOEM hearing — which is in reality only an information session, but there will be an opportunity to submit comments — on February 21 in Anchorage at the Dena’ina Center, 6–10pm. A rally is currently being planned, and this post will be updated as soon as that information becomes available.