Alaska Natives are becoming “economic refugees in their own state”.

It is truly ironic that some Alaskan villages, facing a harsh winter are running out of oil. Rob Stapleton of The Alaska Journal of Commerce brought us the story on Sunday. It seems ludicrous that in a land that has such vast resources of oil and gas, its inhabitants have to go without.

Stapleton says that the affected communities are Ambler in the northwest; Nikolski and Perryville in the Aleutians; Kodiak island’s Karluk; and St. George and St. Paul in the Bering Sea. As they run out of oil they are forced to have them shipped in at much higher prices. This is because of the difficulty of getting flights in. In fact, The Alaskan Journal of Commerce reports that:

“Exacerbating the problem is the lack of available tanker aircraft to fly to the villages. There are only a handful of tankers capable of moving large quantities of fuel. One of the larger companies, Evert’s Air, has been busy delivering fuel to Iliamna to supply the work Pebble Mine. Those shipments have backed up delivery schedules for the rest of the state. “

The State of Alaska officials have been monitoring the problem, declaring emergencies when the situation reaches crisis level says Stapelton. The GITGO Heating Fuel Heating Program donated $6.48 million in Alaska and the 2008 program plans on a humanitarian donation of $8.2 million which is distributed by the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council.

In spite of this, some villagers are having to make do, cutting back on electricity, dressing in layers and using wood burning stoves. However, the hardships being faced are forcing people to move from remote communities to urban areas where they face the further problems of inadequate housing and unemployment.

Perhaps this movement of communities is useful for the companies exploring for gas and oil because it means that they do not have to face the human cost of the activities that they are carrying out. It seems that the cost is not just a change of environmental conditions, but social and health costs beyond those directly coming from the exploration.

In fact, The Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, on its website says that

“Alaska Native communities are facing an unprecedented number of new proposals for oil and gas development, mining, and logging. Large-scale industrial development is associated with a wide range of social, cultural, economic, and environmental impacts, with profound implications for physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being in Native communities. Yet the permitting process for these projects does not generally include a systematic evaluation of the impacts on human health.”

The article is really worth reading in full for all those who want to have a more complete picture of the impacts of exploration and for details that could not be included in this short post.

The most poignant statement in the article was a quote from Nikos Pastos, environmental director for the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council who said that he believed that:

“Alaska Natives are becoming economic refugees in their own state.”

~ by abstraktbiblos on Tuesday, 18 March, 2008.

2 Responses to “Alaska Natives are becoming “economic refugees in their own state”.”

  1. […] abstraktbiblos ’s post on Alaska Natives are becoming â […]

  2. It is a travesty of monumental proportions that Alaska’s villages, populated with its poorest people, must suffer the double indignity of paying the highest fuel costs in the nation and beg for state assistance to do so.

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