The oil of the Inupiat

Back in the 1950’s, as Alaska prepared for statehood, its political leadership had some big decisions to make.  Virtually all of Alaska was owned by the federal government, and statehood meant that some of that land would be granted to the new State.  What land should Alaska select?

Underpaid geologists working for the territorial government wanted the most valuable oil prospects, and their knowledge of Alaskan geology led them the barren wastes of the North Slope.  It was determined that the best land of all was in what is now Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But this area was off limits.  Not because it contained wildlife, but because the Department of Defense wanted it for the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line for detection of incoming Russian bombers.

So Alaska settled for the area just to the west, in what is now the great Prudhoe Bay oil complex.  But the geology of this frigid, desolate and barren country hasn’t changed.  The best place to look for oil in the United States remains Area 1002.

Normally when I put a piece out in American Thinker I am subjected to a certain amount of abuse by the commenters, but not so today.  Actually, a couple of them reminded me of some salient facts about the chances for oil in Area 1002.

At the end of the 1980’s Chevron drilled a couple of wells around Kaktovik, just to the west of Area 1002, on private land.  The results have never been made public.  When I was in the Alaska Legislature, none of us knew what they found, and as far as I know very few people know today.

Were they dry holes?  In the oil industry, word of a dry hole spreads quickly.  The best indication of what they found is that the oil industry is still itching to get in to Area 1002.

Qaaktugvik (Kaktovik) is an Inupiat Eskimo village, and the only inhabited part of the area around Area 1002.  It was founded in the 1950’s as a result of the installation of the DEW line.  293 people now live there.

The only employers in the village are the North Slope Borough (NSB) and the school district.  Since it taxes the oil industry that operates within its boundaries, the NSB is one of the wealthiest boroughs, or counties, in the country.

The Inupiat people of Alaska, the ones who live nearest Area 1002, are all for development.  Right now, they have enough money to buy an island in the South Pacific and move the entire population 10,000 to it.  The weather would be better, but these are Inupiat, and they are stubborn people.

In my office I have a traditional Inupiat sled, crafted from the baleen of a whale and tied together with string made from seal gut.  My Uncle Fritz got it from the Inupiat in the 50’s, when he lived with them for a time.

In the early 50’s Tennessee Miller was hired to build a winter ice road from Fairbanks north bring supplies for the construction of the DEW line.  Uncle Fritz was part of that crew.  He loved the Eskimos he met when they reached the Arctic Ocean.

This oil, in a sense, really belongs to these Inupiat.  They’ve been there for 2,000 years, surviving in the most hostile environment the earth has on offer.   If you’ve got any heart at all, you’ve got to love these people.  And they want to get the oil out.

For once, let’s listen to the Native people of America.



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