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Alaska Villagers Testify on Drilling

April 6, 2003

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Several members of the House Resources Committee heard testimony Saturday from residents of the only village inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the Bush administration hopes to begin drilling for oil.

Robert Thompson, an Inupiat Eskimo wilderness guide in Kaktovik, told committee members he opposes drilling because of what it has done at Prudhoe Bay, an oil field about 100 miles away.

``I’ve seen Prudhoe Bay and I’ve seen the structures, the black smoke coming from the area, the roads, the infrastructure,″ said Thompson. ``I would like to leave the land like it is for future generations.″

Seven people from Kaktovik, a village of 306 people on Barter Island, testified Saturday. The village is part of the 19.6 million-acre refuge.

George Tagarook, fire chief and former Kaktovik mayor, holds the more popular opinion in Kaktovik that drilling would be a good thing. ``I think we are pretty sure we could drill in an environmentally sound way,″ said Tagarook, an Inupiat Eskimo.

He said drilling in the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain for its estimated 5.7 billion to 16 billion barrels of oil extends far beyond bringing better services to the village.

``This is not a Kaktovik issue. It also will benefit the state of Alaska and the rest of the United States of America,″ Tagarook said.

The committee members heard testimony concerning two bills, one that would open the refuge’s oil-rich coastal plain to drilling and another that would make it permanent wilderness.

About 120 people crowded into the community hall for the four-hour hearing. Repeatedly, lawmakers were told that the people of Kaktovik have been ignored in the long debate over drilling.

``Something needs to be written into the legislation allowing the local people a say, whichever way it goes ... so the land doesn’t get destroyed, the animals don’t get run out of here,″ said Kaktovik mayor Lon Sonsalla. ``Nobody wants anybody coming and disrupting your backyard and not asking you about it.″

Debbie Miller, a founding member of the Alaska Wilderness League, said she tried to impress upon the committee members that the refuge should be protected. But she said it appeared their minds were already made up.

``They are only hearing one side, the pro-drilling people,″ she said after the hearing.

A vote in the Senate last month fell short in what many considered the best chance yet of opening ANWR to drilling. The Bush administration said it would turn its attention to the House to salvage a key part of the president’s energy plan.

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