Salazar approved arctic oil drilling plan as he prepared keynote at Copenhagen

Alaska Natives at Climate Talks to demand a moratorium on fossil fuel development and a climate treaty that protects Indigenous Peoples Rights

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Copenhagen, Denmark - Alaska Natives from the Chukchi Sea to Copenhagen have been reeling after the announcement that the Obama administration has approved Royal Dutch Shell Plc's (RDSa.L) plan to drill for oil off Alaska's northwest coast as early as next summer.

In a move revealing of the US agenda at Copenhagen, the Department of the Interior has endorsed drilling for fossil fuels in the climate-effected ecosystems of the Arctic, where global warming already impacts Alaska Natives and entire villages are in danger of losing their lands and way of life.

"Shell says 'the Chukchi Sea could be home to some of the most prolific, undiscovered hydrocarbon basins in North America,' but we're here to remind Salazar and Shell that it is our home and our lives that will be devastated by the drilling," said Faith Gemmill, Executive Director of REDOIL, who is attending the Copenhagen Climate Talks.

"More fossil fuel drilling will only bring more pollution to the Chukchi Sea, and ultimately, more devastating climate change to the world. Salazar should know: We must leave those fossil fuels in the ground and invest in real renewable solutions that uphold Indigenous Peoples rights."

The effects of global warming in Alaska include thawing permafrost, melting sea ice, declining fish populations, migratory and habitat disruptions of key subsistence resources – all direct, disruptive impacts that Alaska Natives are already experiencing. Alaska Native communities are struggling with forced relocation as coastlines no longer protected by sea ice erode, and are now, in essence, "climate refugees."

"As Alaska Natives, our ancestral ways of life and homelands are imperiled by devastating proposals for fossil fuel drilling and development," said Colleen Swan of Kivalina, a community located adjacent to the Chuckchi Sea who is in Copenhagen this week on her first international journey. "These fossil fuels are carbon that will compound climate change, and the ecological devastation we see is also compounded by the impacts of climate change, and so it is a lose-lose. That's why we are here in Copenhagen to tell the world our story, and demand real action by the Obama Administration."

REDOIL is a network and movement of Alaska Natives who are challenging the fossil fuel and mining industry and demanding our rights to a safe and healthy environment conducive to subsistence. The REDOIL network consists of grassroots Alaska Natives of the Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, Gwich'in, Eyak and Denaiana Athabascan tribes. We aim to address the human and ecological health impacts brought on by the unsustainable development practices of the fossil fuel and mining industry. REDOIL strongly supports self-determination rights of tribes in Alaska, as well as a just transition from fossil fuel and mineral development to sustainable economies, and promotes the implementation of sustainable development on Alaska Native lands. Visit:

While oil is still something that is needed to run the economy of our countries, and even of Alaska, or with what precisely would the Natives like to power the snowmobiles, we must wean ourselves from it, however.

I find it also rather interesting that it is Shell who got the green light for the Chuckchi Sea oil development at the same time, basically that they won the Iranian oilfield in the south. Does it only appear to me rather strange?

© 2009