On December 22, 2017, President Trump authorized oil and gas development in a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) on the North Slope of Alaska. The measure was passed with the ostensible goal of raising money for the federal government and encouraging economic development. Drilling in the Refuge has faced criticism because of the damage that industrial infrastructure and potential oil spills could inflict on animals and the landscape. ANWR is an important habitat for polar bears, migratory birds, whales, and caribou, which many Native Alaskans rely on for food.
Kaktovik, a predominantly Native Inupiat village of 300 people, is situated on two-mile-wide Barter Island on the northern shore of the 1002 area in which drilling has been authorized. While feelings are mixed, many residents support oil development because of the economic benefit to the community. Others are concerned that oil drilling will mar the landscape and harm animals that are valuable for food and an attraction for a budding tourism industry. Oil lease sales are slated to begin as early as next year.
This summer, I traveled to Kaktovik to take pictures and speak with people about the community's thoughts on oil development. The photos show some of the landscape of ANWR and the animals that live there, as well as a sense of life in Kaktovik.
My trip to Kaktovik lasted four days, and during that time I spoke with many residents of the community about oil development. Opinions were mixed. On one hand, jobs and oil dividends are attractive to a community that has limited sources of income and harsh living conditions.
But other residents, along with environmentalists and scientists, are worried oil development will be catastrophic for the landscape and the many animals that call ANWR home.