Drilling Making Alaskans Sick

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


offshore200.jpgBy now, most of us have heard about how oil and gas drilling does a number on ecosystems. But it’s no good for people, either. By way of the British Columbia online magazine the Tyee comes the story of Nuiqsut, a coastal community of 523 people in northern Alaska, about 100 miles west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Back in the late ’90s, the oil and gas companies wooed the local Inupiat tribe with promises of jobs and minimal environmental impact—just 14 acres of tribal land would be affected by offshore and land drilling, they said. But now, 14 looks more like 500, and the community is a whole lot worse for the wear, says Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of Nuiqsut and also a health-care worker:

Since 1986, when she first started working in the health field, the number of people needing medical help to breathe has risen dramatically.

Nuiqsut is 15 metres above sea level on the tundra, and Ahtuangaruak says she can see the natural gas flares from the clinic. The nights when they light up the sky are the same nights she, and other medical staff, can’t leave the clinic for helping people with inhalers, nebulizers, steroids and antibiotics.

The chemicals used in oil and gas extraction, it seems, can irritate the lungs and cause a bunch of other nasty health problems, too.

The other thing about drilling: It’s really noisy. Booms as loud as a jet takeoff have scared Nuiqsut’s whales and caribou off, so along with their health, local people are losing their livelihood.

The Canadian government is currently trying to ignore an offshore-drilling moratorium enacted 34 years ago. What can coastal communities expect if officials succeed in wishing away the moratorium? Nuiqsut’s hard times are probably a pretty good indication.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate