North Slope Borough

Environmental Protection Policy Background


To: Mayor Eben Hopson

From: Billy Neakok, director, Conservation and Environmental Security Department (Department was established in February 1977)

Re: Statement of the Environmental Protection Policy of the North Slope Borough

Our Assembly president, Oliver Leavitt, has asked for a statement of Borough environmental protection policy. This memorandum has been prepared to respond to that request.


One of the reasons for the organization of the North Slope Borough in 1972 was our need to protect our land against the harmful results of Arctic energy fuel development. We did so with the full knowledge that our Arctic Slope Regional Corporation would become actively involved in the oil and gas business.

Organizing an Arctic regional home rule government from scratch has been demanding upon our community, but its complexities have not distracted us from the task of defending the environmental security of our land and people.

The evolution of the Borough's environmental protection policy began in the spring of 1960, when the people of Barrow engaged in the peaceful direction action demonstration against the enforcement of Migratory Bird Treaty's ban on our subsistence duck hunting. This incident, the Barrow "Duck-In", reflected popular mood that resulted in our region's leadership in the Alaska Native Land Claims movement in the 1960s, and in the development of regional government in the 1970s. While we were politically powerless during the initial exploration and development of the Prudhoe Bay field, Borough organization enabled us to deal with further development.

Perhaps the first significant event in the evolution of Borough environmental protection policy was the Borough's land selections at Prudhoe Bay. Under State law, our Borough government is entitled to select up to ten percent of State-owned lands within our jurisdiction. Our first selections in 1973 under this entitlement were made to enable our government to control the use of gravel at Prudhoe Bay. It is our policy to regard gravel as surface estate and as a critically important environmental factor. Unfortunately, this initial effort to assert local control over environmental control was opposed by the State of Alaska and resulted in litigation that continues.

In 1974, we were presented with national decisions to conduct Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) lease sales, and speed up the exploration and development of naval Petroleum Service No. 4 (NPR-4). We began hearing from the Inuvialuit about Canadian offshore oil and gas operations in the Beaufort Sea. We interceded in the Union Oil East Harrison Bay ice island exploration project, and arranged for Union oil engineers to come to Barrow to explain this project to the Borough's staff, Planning Commission and Assembly.

In 1975, the Borough interceded in the enactment of national Naval petroleum reserves legislation that transferred NPR-4 (now NPR-A) to the civilian control of the Department of the Interior. We caused language to be included in this legislation that established the NPR-A Task Force to enable equal participation of the Borough and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation in comprehensive NPR-A land use planning.

The Borough's successful Washington W.D. NPR-4 lobby laid the foundations for the decision to establish a full time Washington D.C. Legislative Liaison program earlier this year.

While we began closely monitoring plans for offshore operations in the U.S. Beaufort, we continued to hear disturbing reports of Canadian Beaufort Sea projects and, in the summer of 1975, we made a decision to establish good communications with our people in Canada and Greenland in order to keep informed of all Arctic offshore operations. This led to plans to host a conference of our community leaders from Canada and Greenland.

In January 1976, you were asked by the Inuvialuit of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, to intercede with the Canadian government against plans to permit the oil industry to begin Arctic OCS operations in the Canadian Beaufort Sea, and subsequent work led the Borough to adopt the policy that Canadian Beaufort Sea OCS operations were of direct concern to the people of the Borough.

In March 1976, the Borough conducted a pre-conference planning meeting attended by Inupiat land claims leaders from Canada and Greenland. We met to plan an agenda for the first Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) that was scheduled for November 1976. This Conference was later rescheduled for the week of June 13, 1977.

In June 1976, the Canadian cabinet granted final approval of the first Beaufort Sea OCS explorations and the Borough undertook to bring these operations to national attention. Because information had been circulated that these operations were approved after a five year environmental impact assessment program, the Canadian Beaufort Sea study resulted in scientific recommendations that final approval be withhold pending the development of improved and proven Arctic OCS technology. The Borough's policy was to oppose all Arctic OCS operations until safe and responsible extraction technology could be designed and tested. At the same time, it was decided to support State efforts to consolidate State and Federal near shore explorations as a safe first step in U.S. Beaufort offshore operations.

The Borough's Planning Department began to document traditional/ historical use of Beaufort coastal zone lands that might be impacted by offshore and NPR-A operations with a view to eventual designation of industrial development and historic use zones.

In December 1976, the Borough decided to initiate an Arctic Coastal Zone Management (CZM) program as an inter-departmental project of the Mayor's office and the Planning Department. The ICC was viewed as a CZM activity aimed at organizing international CZM cooperation able to deal with the Beaufort Sea as a single ecological system in which all offshore operations would be held to a single set of rules.

In the summer of 1976, it became clear to the Borough that the Arctic Gas pipeline route had strong national political support in both the U.S. and Canada, and the Mackenzie Valley route became an environmental protection and CZM problem.

Borough sensitivity to the fact that pipelines may contribute to environmental problems was heightened by the 1976 Western Arctic caribou herd crisis. Widespread sorry about the impact of trans-Alaska oil pipeline construction upon normal caribou herd migration appeared to have been justified when the State suddenly placed sharp restrictions upon subsistence caribou hunting, citing a sudden reduction in the size of the herd. The Borough responded to the crisis by establishing, with the help of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, a borough Game Management Committee, and we began to plan improved game management as an important step in the evolution of our environmental protection policy.

In February, you made the decision to take an important step to secure Assembly approval of the creation of the Borough's new Department of Conservation and Environmental Security. Concurrently, you also established the borough's new Washington D.C. Legislative Liaison, and engaged a highly regarded, politically knowledgeable Washington D.C. law firm to assist in the development of sound national Arctic policies.

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