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