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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

ANWR: 'Environmentalist' Hypocrisy on Native Rights, Wildlife Protection

From Hawaii Free Press
By Mark Farrell, 5/5/2005 7:42:19 AM

Recently, columns appearing in Hawaii "alternative" newspapers condemned drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Sebastian Blanco claimed in the April 20 Honolulu Weekly, "The [proposed drilling] area is one of the last swaths of Alaska's north shore that is not open to oil drilling, and locals want to keep it that way." Jack Kelley in the Feb. 16 Hawaii Island Journal alleges that Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) voted for the "blatantly anti-environmental measure" in exchange for support of the Akaka bill from Alaska Senators. Hawaii's fake environmentalists are once again using distortions and hypocritical reasoning in an attempt to keep oil drillers from pumping much needed energy resources from a potentially huge reserve.

The most common theme in all of the anti-drilling rhetoric is the claim that Native Alaskan people oppose it. This disingenuous argument shows the environmentalists only support native rights when it is convenient to their argument. The Gwich'in Natives — who are the most vocal and most cited opponents of ANWR drilling — and the only Alaska Native group to come out against it — do not reside in ANWR or even on Alaska's coastal plains.

The only Natives that live in ANWR and on the Coastal plain are the Inupiat Natives, who support drilling by an 8:1 margin (More than 75 percent of the entire Alaska population supports drilling). Blanco and Kelley ignore this fact because it undermines their argument. Inupiat leader George Tagarook supports drilling, stating that "when we hear about Native people from someplace else with plans for our homelands, we know we are not hearing real native voices. We know someone else from some other place wrote the language."

The language they are hearing is that of the environmental lobby, which is now funneling millions of dollars to Gwich'in organizations that once supported drilling in their own homelands. Amazingly, Blanco quotes a Maui Sierra Club leader condemning all other Alaskan Native groups as "corporate." He condemns one native group as, "the largest private landowner in Southeast Alaska." Apparently Blanco only supports Natives who are dispossessed and beholden to his politics.

But even if the Gwich'in leadership is given benefit of the doubt, the arguments that drilling would be detrimental to the environment are fallacious. ANWR is an enormous reserve; at 19 million acres, it is slightly smaller than South Carolina. All but 1.5 million acres are protected from exploration, leaving an area the size of West Virginia untouched. When drilling begins, Department of the Interior estimates that only 2000 acres — or about 3 square miles — will be affected.

Even when presented with these facts, ANWR opponents often tell of a pristine coastal plain environment. This usually comes from people who have never even been to Alaska, let alone the coastal plain. I am from Alaska, and I have been to the coastal plain. Flying over the vast territory, all one can see for miles and miles is white tundra and frozen ponds. Not far beyond the Brooks Range, the landscape flattens into a desolate, white, barren expanse.

In spite of this, there is an abundance of wildlife in ANWR and the entire costal plain. An examination of the Prudhoe Bay oilfield impact on wildlife is startling — but not for the reasons cited by the environmental movement. The caribou vital to the subsistence living of Inupiats have thrived around the Prudhoe Bay oilfield, increasing from about 3,000 in the 1970s to over 32,000 in the same area today. Studies of the Beaufort Sea polar bear population shows that the creatures are rather indifferent to human presence. One caribou herd has decreased the Porcupine Herd. The decrease in the Porcupine Herd is often cited by environmentalists — who choose not to mention that it's range is nowhere near current oil drilling or pipeline areas.

Technology allows us not only to protect wildlife, but also to decrease our footprint on the environment. If the Prudhoe Bay field had been built today instead of in the 1970s, it would be 64 percent smaller. Permanent infrastructure will be minimized by Department of the Interior regulations requiring ice roads and ice airstrips. Drilling in ANWR will be restricted to the cold months of November through May, when most of the migratory animals vacate the coastal plain. I visited the coastal plain several years ago in April and it was a frigid -30F. There were no polar bears or caribou in sight.

Kelly insists that Hawaii's Senators only support ANWR because Alaska's Senators Ted Stevens (R) and Lisa Murkowski (R) will support the Akaka bill. I spent the summer interning for Sen. Stevens, and I had several opportunities to discuss ANWR and the Akaka Bill with him. Stevens points out to me that he has supported the Akaka bill since its inception, and that he is the bill's co-sponsor.

In actuality, Inouye and Akaka probably support ANWR because they understand that the United States needs to reduce its dependency on foreign oil and because they recognize the strong support for drilling amongst Alaskan Natives. Kelly claims that ANWR will "produce enough oil for six month's use in the United States," as if every drop of oil used in the U.S. in a 6-month period is an insignificant amount. The same tactic was used by environmentalists in the 1970s, when they claimed that the Prudhoe Bay field would yield only several months worth of oil. Since 1977, however, 13 billion barrels of oil has continuously flowed from the Alaska pipeline. Several U.S. studies suggest that there is between 6 and 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil under the coastal plain. Drilling would provide about one million barrels of oil per day. Blanco and Kelly's "insignificant" amount is equal to the oil the U.S. imports daily from Iraq. Oddly, they both have claimed we went to war in Iraq for this "insignificant" amount.

The U.S. must develop alternatives to fossil fuels. However, such alternatives are not yet ready. Although it might take 15 years to start drilling in ANWR, several years‚ worth of oil will help [ensure] energy independence until alternatives are brought to market. Until then, the environmentalists should abandon their deceitful and hypocritical tactics to keep Alaskans from deciding what to do on their own land.

Mark Farrell grew up on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. He visited the Alaska costal plain in April 2001. Currently General Manager of University Radio Hilo, Farrell interned for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) in the summer of 2004. Farrell is a 2005 Harry S. Truman Scholar and a junior at U.H. Hilo.

HawaiiReporter.com reports the real news, and prints all editorials submitted, even if they do not represent the viewpoint of the editors, as long as they are written clearly. Send editorials to mailto:Malia@HawaiiReporter.com

Rob's comment
A couple stereotypes here:

One, that the beliefs of the Gwich'in aren't valid unless the people live on the land now. This ignores their nomadic history and the quaint idea that many indigenous people consider the whole earth sacred.

As Chip Duncan wrote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/26/05:

I also had the chance to listen to the Gwich'in people discuss their nomadic history as caribou hunters throughout the area now called ANWR. During interviews with elders in Arctic Village, not a single one supported the Bush plan to drill for oil.

Two, that the beliefs of the Inupiat Natives who support drilling aren't valid because the people are members of corporations rather than tribal nations. This is an artifact of the laws passed by Congress, not some self-denial of tribal heritage. Besides, Native people need jobs and income too. Like everyone else, they have to balance exploiting the environment with preserving it.

As for the rest of Farrell's claims, here are a few relevant facts:

Bush's Press Conference: Little News, One Big Problem

Talking about energy, Bush pushed for drilling in the Alaska wilderness, and he used an untrue argument that proponents of drilling have been tossing around for years. He said that the wilderness area encompasses 19 million acres, yet the drilling would only affect 2000 acres. Sounds like a drop in the bucket. But this 2000-acre figure was discredited long ago, for it only covers the area on which equipment touches the ground. It does not include, for example, all the land that would be used for pipelines and roads. By this method of measurement, a car takes up only several square inches of space—the area where the rubber hits the road.


No dodging the drill bit?
How will future generations judge our stewardship?


Posted: March 26, 2005

That the amount of oil in the refuge is unknown doesn't seem to matter (estimates range from 5.7 billion to 15 billion barrels).

Even Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, a supporter of drilling, told The New York Times that "we don't know if there's any real oil there. That's why this could be boom or bust. The geologists simply say it's the area of North America most likely to support a large field."

Interesting logic. "We don't know, so why not drill" vs. "we don't know, so maybe we should err on the side of conservation."

The fact that most major world oil companies are only mildly interested in ANWR's potential doesn't seem to matter. The fact that we're occupying oil-rich Iraq, which owns approximately 25% of the world's oil reserves, doesn't seem to matter.

As a true believer in representative government, I find it tough to argue against oil development in ANWR since the majority of Alaskans favor development. But they also receive a sizable government check at the end of each year for the exploitation of the state's oil and mineral rights. In other words, developing ANWR will put money in their pockets.

Mark Farrell comments
Farrell sent me the following comment on 10/12/07:

This article as I wrote it was about environmental hypocrisy, not Native Americans. The article was changed extensively before publication by an editor who was engaged in a political agenda with Native Hawaiians (and, I assume, he thinks that all Native issues are one and the same). I'm certainly not Anti-Native, and I couldn't disagree more strongly with the words attributed to me in this article. I asked the editor for a co-byline or to remove my name, but he chose to do neither.

Thanks for your fairness.


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