Subject: Eskimos Worry About Oil Drilli (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Mon, 14 Jul 1997 15:36:35 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 11 Jul 97 00:08:00 GMT 
Subject: Eskimos Worry About Oil Drilli

Eskimos Worry About Oil Drilling

 Associated Press Writer
   NUIQSUT, Alaska (AP) -- In winter, the earth is frozen solid. In
summer, it is one of the marshiest places in North America.
   For the Nuiqsut Eskimos, this barren coastline that is freezing
even on days the sun never sets is where they have hunted caribou,
geese and whales for generations.
   But it is also where North Slope oil drillers believe an
estimated 1 billion barrels worth of oil can be found below the
tundra. Thomas Napageak knows this, and he is worried.
   "It is our home, where we gather our food," says Napageak,
president of the Nuiqsut's tribal council. "The price to that is
   This week, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt arrived to tour the
area as his office prepares to rule on whether to open up 23
million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to drilling.
   The Interior Department is expected to decide next year -- in
half the normal time -- on drilling leases.
   Residents of Nuiqsut feel their fishing and hunting claims are
being shoved aside in the rush for fuel. They vented their
frustrations as Babbitt toured their village of 450 on the eastern
edge of the reserve.
   Trying to show Babbitt the importance of the wilderness to their
lives, the residents on Wednesday took Babbitt to a hunting and
fishing camp, where he saw them butchering fish and game, and on a
float trip where he helped haul in a fishing net.
   The Eskimos here have shared in the money doled out to those
living near the oil fields, but they fear their traditions will be
swallowed up as big oil closes in on their homeland.
   They are not comforted by state officials and oil companies that
say the roads and pipelines will have a minimal effect.
   "We were there before the oil fields came, and they tell us we
have no right over it," said Bernice Kaigelak, an Inupiat Eskimo
in Nuiqsut. "We are the people of the land. We were here, and our
ancestors were here."
   Babbitt said he had not realized how vital the land was to the
Alaska Natives until he saw their lifestyle firsthand during a 1993
   "I finally understood your presence on the land is absolutely
connected to your ability to survive six months of darkness,"
Babbitt said at a town meeting.
   Hunting and fishing "is not about a sport, it's not about game.
It's about life and death," he acknowledged.
   Many Alaska Natives said the fish, caribou, whales and fowl they
take from the land and water account for most of their diet and
many of their cultural trappings. But they also like the cash and
conveniences oil has brought, and do not depend solely on wild game
for food.
   They are among the 7,200 shareholders of the Arctic Slope
Regional Corp., which owns much of the North Slope land, and get
dividends of thousands of dollars a year.
   A good share of the money comes from wells on the reserve's
neighbor, Prudhoe Bay. But the bay's 13.5 billion-barrel oil field
will eventually dry up, and drillers want to start looking
elsewhere now.
   Ken Thompson, president of Arco Alaska Inc., said the industry
is more sensitive to Eskimo culture than it was when oil first
flowed through the trans-Alaska pipeline 20 years ago.
   Arco has done extensive wildlife studies to reduce the impact of
drilling on fish and game, said Thompson.
   Gov. Tony Knowles, accompanying Babbitt, said the state is
trying to balance the impact of oil development with the Natives'
   "We want the people to retain their way of life while enjoying
high-paying jobs and still be able to go on a fall whale hunt,"
Knowles said. "We have to make sure people who depend on the
environment to put food on the table can continue to do that."