The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been under debate since before the 2000’s, one side declaring it a high potential place for oil and the other side saying it needs to be left untouched for the rich wildlife that includes three types of bears (i.e. polar, grizzly, and brown), millions of birds, and caribou. ANWR was created in the 1960s to protect the birthing and migratory area for these animals. The main argument that makes this an ongoing issue is whether the state can benefit from the much needed jobs and revenue that the drilling can produce, but the other side is the damage that will be done by building rigs and the high chance of spill, whose effects will be irreversible. There are many factors that can be weighed in on this argument, but I simplify this debate by choosing between us or them.
Alaska has the highest unemployment in the nation, sitting between 6% to 8% for the past ten years despite being resource rich. The top five industries–in order from biggest to smallest–supporting Alaska are petroleum (with 34% of the jobs), tourism, fishing, mining, and timber. The citizens of the most Northern state cannot deny the importance of the Alyeska Pipeline, but the industry is not even built for our community. The pipeline supplies the highest amount of jobs and highest pay in the region, almost double the statewide income average. However, the oil industry also increasingly employs more and more out of state residents each year: hitting 36.4% this year. Within my lifetime, a high proportion of my family and friends have careers connected with Alyeska Pipeline. With age, I started participating in mature conversations, and I learned the experiences of racism that my loved ones experienced within the industry. Oil workers within my life constantly have had to work under the control of white males, and are at a higher risk of losing their careers compared to non-Alaskans or non-Natives, and work under terrible conditions that includes the lack of paternity leave.
One of the biggest benefits the Nation sees for extracting more oil in Alaska is growing less dependent on foreign resources. The exact amount of oil in ANWR is unknown, and opponents of the companies say it can produce as little as 2% or less of America’s oil needs, while supporters say there is a 50% chance of 7 billion barrels of useable oil. With that being said, the United States used 7.21 billion barrels of petroleum products in 2016. I argue it’s not only time for the United States to grow less dependent on foreign oil and other sources of energy, but work towards no oil use and instead work towards renewable energy.
Alaska is rich through our renewable resources; most of our state is covered by water, our summers consist of a sun that never sets, and many parts of our state experience high winds to name a few assets. These are sustainable land characteristics that are so important for us to obtain, especially when our state feels the harshest effects of global climate change. As residents have switched over to renewables, it has been led by economics more so than environmental reasons, not that surprising when costs for rural living include prices of up to $1 per kilowatt-hour and gas that’s $7 or more per gallon. It’s time to look forward to renewable rural leaders such as Unalakleet or Kodiak, Alaska. Unalakleet like many Western Villages have wind turbines (lowering their diesel consumption by tens of thousands of gallons per year) and Kodiak being 99.7% renewable energy (with no increased cost for 20 years) from their alpine lake along with wind turbines. These movements are being made for the people, by the people.
The oil has proven that it does not value life, putting money as the highest priority in any scenario. Alaska’s richest come from the primitive land, the Indigenous people still depend on their plants and animals as they have for the past hundreds of centuries. Many rural areas continue harvesting their own food as tradition and to meet their daily sustenance when food that has to be flown in can cost painful amounts such as $8 for a gallon of milk. The reason Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was established was for keeping it a secure place for our wildlife and away from the developing, capitalist-ways that do not respect nature. The government has backed this notion of greediness as the Environmental Protection Agency no longer enforces mining companies to have money for cleaning up pollution. Alaska’s solutions can be found in the hearts of our communities, not at the hands of multi-billion dollar companies.