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Monday, May 16, 2005

Oil in Alaska: Two more flashpoints

The Christian Science Monitor, which is doing some of the best environmental reporting in the "mainstream" press lately, offers up this story today on two more oil-rich areas in Alaska. Both have serious environmental concerns but have been somewhat overshadowed by the ANWR debate.

One is Teshekpuk Lake in National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, located west of ANWR (we looked at it briefly here.) The other is Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, located between the Brooks Range and White Mountains, which probably nobody outside of Alaska has even heard of. (The Monitor story includes a map of the areas.)

The two areas are believed to hold about 1.6 billion barrels of oil, or about one-sixth the estimated reserves of ANWR. Most of it is under Teshekpuk Lake, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management wants to open it to oil leasing. The mayor of the native North Slope Borough has taken a surprisingly firm stand against oil drilling at Teshekpuk Lake, a fragile area considered sacred for caribou hunting. (See his March 2005 newsletter, a .pdf file available at this site.)

At Yukon Flats, Doyon Ltd., an Athabascan Indian-owned corporation based in Fairbanks, is seeking to trade about 150,000 acres of low-lying wetlands for 110,000 upland acres in the refuge with oil and gas potential. State and federal officials appear to support the swap, but not all Doyon shareholders do.

"I think it's going to hurt the people up here for many years to come," said Ed Alexander, who proposed a resolution opposing drilling that was adopted by the tribal council of Fort Yukon, a village near the proposed drilling. A similar but nonbinding resolution was approved by voice vote at Doyon's annual shareholder meeting in March.

All this has me thinking, again, that the only solution to continued oil conflicts, and the inevitable environmental cost, is conservation and massive investment in alternatives. I know that's not rocket science, but it's not the path we're following now.

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