Ground Zero

| July 27, 2001

Ground Zero

Soaring over the tundra of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Debbie S. Miller describes the pristine wildness of a region teeming with polar bear and caribou for the Natural Resources Defense Council's Amicus Journal. The description changes markedly when Miller flies over the nearby Badami oil and gas drilling fields, an area the size of Rhode Island.

In the drilling region, gas flares light the sky, drilling pads dot the landscape, and roads and airstrips scar the tundra. It is easy to imagine the impact of such industrial intrusion on the environment, but what about the impact on the indigenous people who call this region home?

Indeed, hunting and fishing tribes have survived here for 4,000 years--living off the land in a manner they consider sacred. But with the arrival of the oil industry, the way of life they know and love is being corrupted and forever changed.

In Inupiat Eskimo villages, such as the North Slope's Nuiqsut, the oil industry did bring some jobs for the people, but at what expense? The caribou that once provided them with sustenance are now farther away and of thinner, inferior quality. The fish now taste 'strange' and contain dangerous levels of PCBs. Truancy, vandalism, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide are on the rise--as are thyroid disorders and asthma attacks.

'The oil companies are like dinosaurs,' says Nuiqsut president Thomas Napageak, 'with tails so powerful, they can sweep us away.'
--Al Paulson
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