Oil Development & ancsa
ancsa: an "immediate need" to settle land claims
The discovery of North America's largest oil field was in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, on the North Slope coast in 1967. On December 18, 1971, President Richard Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The act read, “There is an immediate need for a fair and just settlement of all land claims by Natives.” In fact, the “immediate need” was for the state and oil companies to build the Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline. Alaska Native communities and their “claims” to the land had never been attended to in history--from the sale of the territory from Russia to the U.S., to Alaska's statehood in 1959. But with the discovery of oil came an "immediate need" to settle land claims, in order to build a pipeline across the state. The act further declared, “This act shall be regarded as an extinguishment of all previous aboriginal title.” All of the territory had belonged communally to the people. But that was “extinguished” by ANCSA. Villages became “corporations,” and Alaska Natives became “shareholders.” In exchange for the land, Native corporations were granted a total of 900 million dollars. Ten years later, after pipeline construction, the state collected 12 billion dollars in oil revenue.
building the line
A range of companies joined together under the name of the Alyeska Project Pipeline Company, to start the construction of what would be one of the most expensive infrastructure endeavors in the history of the United States. Production began on June 20th, 1977. The pipeline was designed to move the oil from the most northern point of Alaska in Prudhoe Bay, south to Valdez, for shipping from Valdez to refineries outside the state. After $8 billion dollars and 70,000 workers, the finished pipeline ran 800 miles and consisted of 11 pump stations.
oil & water "don't mix"
Environmental complications have occurred throughout Alaskan oil development, including July 8th, 1977, when an explosion along the Trans-Alaska pipeline killed one worker and injured five others. On February 5th, 1978, 16,000 barrels of oil leaked out and shut down the pipeline for repair. Each day in Prudhoe Bay, at least one spill tends to occur. Over 2.7 million gallons have been dumped in a 13-year period. On March 24th, 1989, 10.8 million gallons of oil flowed into the waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska, when the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef: one of the biggest environmental tragedies in history. With food sources destroyed, over a thousand miles of shoreline soiled, and hundreds of thousands of animals dead, the human impact on the environment was disastrous. The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster, published in 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the spill, tells many stories of Alaskan citizens, government officials, those who helped to clean, and many others directly involved. Elenore McMullen of Port Graham, Alaska states, "I went down to the beach and looked around, and the mussels had all died. I'd touch them and they'd fall off the rocks."
the future of oil
Organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are working towards finding energy alternatives to stop these environmental issues, protect untouched land, and fight climate change. The NRDC works to save wildlife that have been or could be affected by the oil industry. A specific project includes that of pregnant caribou migrating once a year to give birth to their young. The NRDC works to keep the oil industry out of the caribou's sight through political action, advocacy, and active participation.
Arctic national wildlife refuge debate
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1960, is the largest refuge in the entire country. Spanning over 19 million acres, this protected area aims to preserve unique wildlife and the environment. The region is described as a place "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man" (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, ANWR). Inupiaq communities near the refuge rely on many animals for subsistence hunting and traditional practices. The controversy over this protected land began with the discovery of copious amounts of oil below the surface of ANWR. Oil companies and some government officials claim that drilling within the refuge can be accomplished withou damage to the environment, animal species, or Native communities. With each year and presidential administration, and the accompanying whims of U.S. political change, ANWR remains threatened by possible future oil development.
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