Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Hell of a Dilemma

Yesterday, the Times business section had a really beautiful little documentary called "A Dilemma In The Arctic."

The piece looks at the Inupiat Eskimos living in Barrow, Alaska, right on the edge of a new proposed site for a Shell Oil exploration site. Well, I've heard of off-shore drilling projects. I even followed some of the debate in congress a few years ago (was that last year, or 10 years ago?). I didn't know that there were still freezers filled with food all caught by hand, by family. Whale, caribou, shark.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

The Inpuiat and environmental groups like the Sierra Club are trying to block the drilling, citing dangers to the animals and to the environment.

At its peak of production, Arctic Refuge oil could supply perhaps one percent of America's energy needs at any given time — not enough to put a dent in our dependence on foreign oil. Sierra Club document.

The Times video is compelling, filled with beautiful photographs and music native to the area.

In it they reproduce and audio of the "use of seismic air guns," which often run 24 hours a day during the exploration for new oil reserves. The sound is like low cannon fire in the distance -- like the sounds you hear in the background of a report from Iraq.

For one thing, there is an endangered whale species at risk. The drilling is scheduled during their migration through the area. The Eskimos rely on the meat from the whales to live. Two endangered lives on the brink.

"It's a hell of a dilemma," says the Edward S. Itta, North Slope Borough mayor. "It's a way of life versus an opposing value." Even as he says it, the film's mournful music seems like a drum beat behind some ironic character out of Shakespeare -- the underlying unspoken, of course, we answer to no one.

BP oil shut down part of it's production in the area earlier this year after pipelines were leaking, a problem they've been having for the past few years. The Times reported in May, Internal company documents released at a hearing led by Mr. Stupak last week suggested that budget cuts by BP had put pressure on managers to ignore corrosion prevention at North Slope pipelines.

Shell internal documents say research shows Eskimos can live for one to two years without whale meat in case of a catastrophic oil spill.

I didn't know there were still people living off the land in this country.

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