Sarah Palin chaired the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from 2003 to 2004 while also serving as Ethics Supervisor of the commission. The Commission is tasked to work in-hand with the oil industry to maximize production, administer correlative rights, and improve resource recovery. It also administers an underground injection program for enhanced oil recovery and underground disposal of oil field waste, as authorized by the EPA. As part of this injection process, oil corporations must obtain an Aquifer Exemption Order granted by the AOGCC in areas with deep groundwater supplies.
Some environmental groups such as the Cook Inletkeeper as well as First Nation People have contested these Orders, fearing they may contaminate groundwater supplies. The Commission also holds oversight of wastewater disposal known as “wastewater drain fields”; as such, oil corporations are permitted to dispose of wastewater in the soil when certain requirements are met, and reject Orders when not met. The Commission’s website lists their primary mission is “to protect the public interest in exploration and development of oil and gas resources, while ensuring conservation practices, enhancing resource recovery, and protecting the health, safety, environment, and property rights of Alaskans.” Though the Cook Inletkeeper website notes “2 billion gallons of toxic waste” are disposed of in the Cook Inlet waterway every year by oil corporations.
Palin became the governor of Alaska in 2006. If she was not aware of the report, titled Pollution and Cancer in Alaska during her time as chairperson of AOGCC, she certainly was as Governor. The report was prepared for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in 2004-but never published. The Alaska residents and wildlife are at risk of serious health effects brought on by exposure to thousands of industrial, military toxic waste dumps and big oil corporations toxic waste, according to a report about the waste sites.
Thousands of Unknown Toxic Waste Sites
The report compiled state records on all known nuclear, mining and military waste sites in Alaska, but makes it clear that there may be thousands of other toxic waste sites that are unknown and undocumented.
The U.S. Department of Defense is responsible for “one-third of all active toxic waste sites in Alaska,” according to the report. In addition, there may be as many as 10,000 abandoned defense sites that are polluted. Complicating the problem further are the thousands of small landfills and industrial waste pits that Alaska does not inventory or monitor. So much for the pristine image we all had about Alaska.
Toxic Waste May Be Contaminating Drinking Water in Alaska
Hundreds of toxic waste dumps are spread along Alaska’s coast and adjacent to lakes, streams and freshwater aquifers, but the extent to which they may be contaminating drinking water is poorly understood. Seventy-nine percent of “rural Alaskans get their drinking water from small water systems or private wells, which are not currently monitored for toxic substances.”
“While many parts of Alaska remain pristine, many other parts of The Last Frontier are profoundly polluted,” said Jeff Ruch, PEER executive director. “Unfortunately, the state is making no effort to assess the dimensions of this multifaceted toxic legacy or the effects on its people and wildlife.”
Toxic Waste Endangering Beluga Whale and Salmon
The Palin administration has allowed Chevron to triple the amount of toxic waste it pours into the waters of Cook Inlet. It has gotten so bad that Robert Kennedy Jr. is now involved. He put out a Press Release on August 12, 2008.
In his letter, Mr. Kennedy notes that Chevron dumps billions of gallons of toxic oil and gas wastes into Cook Inlet’s rich coastal fisheries each year. Chevron could properly treat these wastes by reinjecting them back into the formation, but the corporation – which reported net profits over $5 billion in the first three months of 2008 – has balked due to high costs. An EPA study around Cook Inlet Native villages in 2001 found a broad array of toxics in subsistence fish and shellfish, including the same types of contaminants found in industry waste streams.
A lawsuit has been filed as of June 2008, to protect endangered whales in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. The Beluga Whale needs the protection, it should have been added to the endangered species list and is being illegally delayed. Under Palin’s administration their numbers have dropped to around 370-375 Beluga Whales left. “There is simply no lawful reason for further delay in protecting the Cook Inlet Beluga whale,” said Vicki Clark, an attorney with Trustees for Alaska who represents the conservation groups in today’s suit. “If we don’t act soon we stand to lose this treasured part of Alaska’s and the United State’s natural heritage.”
A coal strip is proposed over local objection; 45 miles west of Alaska’s largest city Anchorage, across Cook Inlet in the small community of Beluga, population 32. Beluga, and neighboring Tyonek, population 199, are off the road system — the only way to reach these communities is by small airplane or boat.
Despite overwhelming local opposition, PacRim Coal and its wealthy Texas investors Richard D. Bass, Herbert Hunt, and the Hunt Trust are pursuing development of the Chuitna coal strip mine less than 10 miles from Beluga and Tyonek. The 12 mile coal transport conveyor and accompanying infrastructure would run within a few hundred yards of the residential subdivision in Beluga, inundating the small community with coal dust and the constant clamor of industrial equipment.
Strip mining is inherently destructive and current plans submitted by PacRim call for the direct mining of 11 miles of a salmon-bearing tributary to the Chuitna River. This would be the first large mine in Alaska permitted to directly mine a salmon stream, a dangerous precedent with far-reaching implications. Additional adjacent leases held by PacRim, along with adjacent and nearby coal leases held by Barrick Gold Company, combine for 60 square miles of threatened wildlife habitat straddling the Chuitna River.
The ecosystem that feeds local communities would be destroyed
The local communities rely heavily on the health of this intact ecosystem to support their lifestyles. Tyonek is a Dena’ina Indian village where to this day they practice a subsistence lifestyle harvesting local foods. Rural Alaskan communities commonly harvest up to 35% of their daily caloric requirements, 60% of which is fish. Subsistence users tend to harvest in traditional use areas near their villages, in this case right where PacRim Coal wants to strip coal from the river’s watershed — destroying the delicate balance that sustains this healthy, intact environment.
PacRim plans call for building a 2 mile long transport trestle and accompanying bulkhead island into the turbulent waters of Cook Inlet for loading oceangoing coal ships. The most likely markets for Chuitna Coal are Asian coal-fired power plants. PacRim plans to store up to 500,000 metric tons of uncovered, unscreened coal just above fishing sites. The coal transport trestle will require a gravel island to be built directly on top of existing salmon set net lease sites, fundamentally destroying these commercial fishing sites and permanently altering salmon and beluga whale migration patterns.
If this coal mine is developed, the profits will go to outside investors and the coal will be sold to the Asian market. In return, Alaskan’s will get fish habitat destruction, coal dust in their homes, mercury in their fish, and heightened effects of global warming. How is this a good deal for Alaskan’s?
While the Palin Administration continues to shepherd this project forward, efforts to slow and extend the timeline have been successful thanks to the efforts of the Heilmans, Terry Jorgensen, and others who formed the Chuitna Citizens NO-COALition; the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is now expected to be released in the first quarter of 2009.
Link Between Pollution and Cancer
The report underlines effects of persistent pollution exposure on cancer rates, disease patterns, and bioaccumulation of toxins in both humans and wildlife. The report surveys discrepancies in cancer rates and traces cancer clusters, but says more systematic research is needed before conclusions can be drawn. Has the Palin Administration jumped right on this to find out why the woman in Alaska are dying at a faster rate than national average?
No, “the prevailing anti-pollution philosophy at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation seems to be ‘don’t ask-don’t tell’,” Ruch said. Could it be that Palin doesn’t want anyone to interfere with her plans to make Alaska look like swiss cheese with her agenda of drill ANWAR, drill off-shore, drill?