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unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

Alaska Natives in Court to Prevent Oil Spill in Arctic

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View Terry Winckler's blog posts
06 May 2010, 10:38 AM
Alarmed by Gulf spill, they are determined to protect their home waters
The Chukchi Sea. Photo: Florian Schulz /

All too aware of the oil spill disaster playing out in the Gulf, Native Alaskans are in court today, determined to keep the same thing from happening in Arctic waters they call home.

Timing is critical, as Shell Oil is poised to start drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas as early as July. Represented by Earthjustice, the 13 Native Alaskan and conservation groups are hoping to convince a federal court that the federal government illegally granted Shell a permit to drill.

There are strong similarities between what Shell plans in the Arctic and what British Petroleum did in the Gulf. Like the residents in four gulf coast states, Alaska Natives rely on ocean bounty. A blowout like the one that occurred in the Gulf would have catastrophic impacts on fishing, whaling, and hunting in their homeland.

Especially chilling is the inability of the oil industry—clearly demonstrated by the Gulf spill—to prevent or deal with offshore oil spills. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen said in a field hearing in Alaska that the lack of capacity to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic could spell disaster for the pristine waters of the Arctic Ocean.

In court, the native groups are targeting the federal Minerals Management Service for downplaying the possibility of a large oil spill, and failing to adequately assess the potential impact of a spill on wildlife and people. Their argument echoes how BP convinced the federal government that the chances of a Gulf spill were "insignificant," and that it had the means to deal with any spill.

I recently spent time in a village in Alaska and was astonished that most villages depend largely on
subsistence activities and commercial fishing as major contributors to residents' livelihoods.
Unless Shell can come up with a reasonable backup plan and a legitimate license with no hidden clauses, they should not be allowed to drill. It would throw thousands of people (Indian and the like)
into complete chaos.
Subsistence activities contribute substantially to villager's diets, particularly salmon, freshwater fish, game birds, and berries. Poor fish returns since 1997 have significantly affected the community with
a hardship, never mind having to cope with an oil well disaster. As well as our planet into an environmental induced chaos.
We should escalate funding for alternative energy sources and stop destroying are planet.

Thanks for listening..........

The oil industry doesn't even know how to clean up big oil spills and yet downplays the dangers. Anyone can see they have no idea what they are doing. They never were trustworthy to regulate themselves. And now they want to be trusted with Alaska too. There are so many worthy energy sources that just need funding and grants, that are doable, making amazing technological breakthroughs, clean, create jobs. Divest in coal and oil and get on the bandwagon with alternative solutions. Stop the planned drilling and let fishermen and the people of Alaska have their livelihoods and way of life. And please look into these allegations of illegal drilling that the lawsuit is claiming before allowing Shell to drill.

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