Arctic Drilling Proposal Sparks Protest, Praise

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, May 22, 2001 (ENS) - Groups from around the nation are making themselves heard on one of the most controversial parts of the White House energy plan - the proposal to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas exploration. The specter of oil derricks rising over the Arctic tundra has drawn vehement opposition - and just as ardent support.

George Ahmaogak, Mayor of Alaska's North Slope Borough, is in Washington this week meeting with members of Congress, to encourage support of Alaska's Eskimos who favor energy exploration.

Ahmaogak

Mayor George Ahmaogak of Alaska's North Slope Borough says many of his constituents support drilling in ANWR (Photo courtesy North Slope Borough)
Ahmaogak says that Washington should look to Alaska's original land stewards as a model to successfully balance responsible energy exploration and the environment in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and beyond.

"We know that development of energy in ANWR is a responsible use of the land," said Ahmaogak. "For thousands of years, we've had a reverence for the land and part of our fundamental belief is that the land should be responsibly used."

The North Slope Borough covers 89,000 square miles - roughly the size of Oregon - and is home to 30 to 40 Eskimo villages. The 19.6 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is part of the North Slope Borough.

Supporters of Arctic drilling estimate that there are more than 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil underneath ANWR's Coastal Plain. New drilling technologies could mean that 2,000 acres or less would be used to extract the oil, supporters say.

"Conservation has always been a part of our culture," said Ahmaogak. "We've had to conserve to survive in the harshest, most extreme of climates."

caribou

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge supports a vast herd of caribou, which in turn help to support the native Gwich'in tribe (Photo courtesy Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)
The mayor pointed to his culture's tradition of harvesting whales - and his own personal commitment to whaling - as an example of how the Eskimo people depend on the land for survival.

"Our people have been respectfully using the land long before Columbus discovered America," said Ahmaogak. "People who have never been to Alaska but are opposing ANWR oil development need to visit and speak to us."

Ahmaogak's visit to the nation's capital was made possible by the Energy Stewardship Alliance, a nonprofit organization formed to support a national energy policy that promotes development of U.S. domestic energy resources as well as energy conservation to reduce reliance on imported energy sources.

The Energy Stewardship Alliance supports the recently introduced National Energy Security Act 2001, which would implement many of the measures promoted by the Bush administration's national energy policy, announced last week.

Gwich'in

For thousands of years, the Gwich'in relied upon the Porcupine River Caribou Herd to meet their subsistence needs (Photo courtesy Gwich'in Steering Committee)
But other native Alaskans do not support oil drilling in ANWR. The 7,000 Gwich'in live in 15 villages and small towns scattered across northeast Alaska and northwest Canada, the most northerly location of all Indian nations. Recent archeological discoveries show that the Gwich'in have survived in concert with the Porcupine caribou herd, which calves on ANWR's North Slope, and the Arctic ecosystem for 25,000 years.

"It would be devastating to completely wipe out this strong international Gwich'in connection to the land with a stroke of a pen by the U.S. government," the tribe has said.

Meanwhile, schoolchildren in New Hampshire have launched a nationwide letter writing campaign against the proposal to open ANWR to drilling.

The 11th and 12th grade biology students of Souhegan High School in Amherst wrote an open letter to teachers, librarians, parents, teacher's aides and students in other schools throughout the U.S. in an online effort to launch a massive children's letter writing campaign to oppose the proposed oil drilling.

students

Biology students at Souhegan High School in Amherst, New Hampshire, have launched a letter writing campaign opposing oil drilling in ANWR (Photo courtesy Kids for Alaska's Wilderness)
"Our goal is to send so many letters to President Bush and members of Congress that they can't not hear us!" the students' letter reports.

The Souhegan High School students' impromptu political science project can be viewed online at: http://www.kids4alaskaswilderness.org, featuring links to key political figures; photographs of the land being targeted for drilling; a letter to kids from acclaimed children's author Jean Craighead George; a conservation pledge; information about ANWR, oil drilling, and related legislation; and links to other ANWR sites.

"As its name implies, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was intended as a safe haven for a remarkable variety of wildlife, not as an oil field," said Kids for Alaska's Wilderness project director Carol Ann Moorhead of Arcata, California. "If we lose this refuge we will lose one of the last, largest and most spectacular undisturbed ecosystems in our country. Our children were meant to inherit ANWR. It's time for our President and members of Congress to hear from them."

George

Author Jean Craighead George with her grandson, Hunter (Photo courtesy Kids for Alaska's Wilderness)
Jean Craighead George, Newberry award winning author of "Julie of the Wolves," has agreed to be the group's honorary spokesperson. In her online letter to the nation's children, Craighead George says, "Although you cannot vote today, you do have political power. You are important people in our democracy. Speak up for the Arctic National Refuge."

The project asks kids to write to President Bush and their U.S. Congress members urging support for two bipartisan bills that would preserve the North Slope section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness - placing it off limits to oil and gas exploration.

"There is no reasonable evidence suggesting the Refuge holds more than a paltry six month supply of oil, spread out over 50 years," said Senator Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat who introduced the Senate version of the bill (S 411). "Far from addressing our energy needs now or in the future, the only thing we are certain to achieve by drilling in this magnificent land is to destroy it with a web of industrial sprawl and pollution."

Religious leaders in California held a rally today to oppose Bush administration plans to drill in ANWR and other pristine lands, saying the Bush energy plan conflicts with "stewardship of God's creation."

The Los Angeles Interfaith Environmental Council Coalition on the Environment joined Jewish Life of Southern California in a rally at the Westwood Federal Building in Los Angeles to signal their support for energy conservation and endorse renewable and green energy programs.

The faith leaders signed and presented "Let There Be Light: An Open Letter to the President, Congress and American People," intended as a direct response to the national administration's new energy policy.

The letter describes the new policy as "depleting energy sources, causing global warming, fouling the air with pollution, and poisoning the land with radioactive waste." The groups say the Bush administration policy is opposed to "the future of God's creation on Earth," and in conflict with "biblical standards of stewardship of God's creation, intergenerational equity, and social and economic justice."