Refuge or Rigging Location?

-Angniq Woods-Orson-

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been under debate about being either left alone as a refuge or being developed into a location for the oil industry since before the 2000’s. One side of the debate declares it an area of high potential for oil and the other side says it needs to be left untouched for the rich wildlife that includes three types of bears (i.e. polar, grizzly, and brown), millions of birds, and caribou. ANWR was created in the 1960s to protect the birthing and migratory area for these animals. The main argument that makes this an ongoing issue is whether the state can benefit from the much needed jobs and revenue that the drilling can produce, but the issue is the damage that will be done by building rigs and the high probability of a spill, the effects of which would be irreversible. There are many complex factors to be weighed on this argument, but I simplify the debate with a simple choice: us or them.

Alaska has the highest unemployment in the nation, sitting between 6% to 8% for the past ten years despite being resource rich. The top five industries–in order from biggest to smallest–supporting Alaska are petroleum (with 34% of the jobs), tourism, fishing, mining, and timber. The citizens of the most northern state cannot deny the importance of the Alyeska Pipeline, but the industry is not even built for our community. The pipeline supplies the highest amount of jobs and highest pay in the region, almost double the statewide income average. However, the oil industry also increasingly employs more and more out of state residents each year: hitting 36.4% this year. Within my lifetime, many of my family and friends have had careers connected with Alyeska Pipeline. With age, I started participating in mature conversations, and I learned of the experiences of racism that my loved ones had to deal with within the industry. Oil workers within my life constantly have had to work under the control of white males, are at a higher risk of losing their careers compared to non-Alaskans or non-Natives, and work under hard conditions that include a lack of paternity leave.

One of the biggest benefits the nation sees for extracting more oil in Alaska is growing less dependent on foreign resources. The exact amount of oil in ANWR is unknown, and opponents of the companies say it could produce as little as 2% or less of America’s oil needs, while supporters say there is a 50% chance of 7 billion barrels of useable oil. With that being said, the United States used 7.21 billion barrels of petroleum products in 2016. The oil industry is choosing to risk hundreds of years of damage for a year’s worth of oil.  I argue it’s not only time for the United States to grow less dependent on foreign oil and other natural sources of energy, but work towards no oil use and put more effort towards renewable energy.

Alaska is rich through our renewable resources; most of our state is covered by water, our summers consist of a sun that never sets, and many parts of our state experience high winds, to name a few assets. These are sustainable land characteristics that are so important for us to obtain, especially when our state feels the harshest effects of global climate change. As residents switch over to renewables, their motives have been  led by economics more so than environmental reasons, which is not that surprising when costs for rural living include prices of up to $1 per kilowatt-hour and gas that’s $7 or more per gallon. It’s time to look forward to renewable rural leaders such as Unalakleet or Kodiak, Alaska. Unalakleet like many Western Villages own wind turbines (lowering their diesel consumption by tens of thousands of gallons per year) and Kodiak being 99.7% renewable energy (with no increased cost for 20 years) from their alpine lake hydroelectric plant along with wind turbines. These movements are being made for the people, by the people.

Big oil has proven that it does not value life, placing money as the highest priority in any scenario. Alaska’s riches come from the primitive land. The Indigenous people still depend on their plants and animals as they have for the past hundreds of centuries. Many rural areas continue harvesting their own food as tradition and in order to meet their daily sustenance when food that has to be flown in can cost painful amounts like $8 for a gallon of milk. The reason Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was established was to keep it a secure place for our wildlife and away from the developing capitalist-ways that do not respect nature. The government has backed this notion of greediness as the Environmental Protection Agency no longer forces mining companies to put aside money for cleaning up the pollution they cause. Alaska’s solutions can be found in the hearts of our communities, not at the hands of multi-billion dollar companies.