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Petroleum News: Kaktovik accuses Shell of insincerity

Kaktovik accuses Shell of insincerity

North Slope community authorizes mayor to defend village from company’s ‘hostile and dangerous’ intentions

Rose Ragsdale

For Petroleum News

The village of Kaktovik has issued a stinging rebuke to Shell Oil, which is planning to conduct seismic work in nearby whaling waters this fall.

In a strongly worded resolution, passed unanimously by Kaktovik’s city council, villagers described Shell Oil as a “hostile” force in the community.

“Until such time as it becomes apparent that Shell Oil wishes to work reasonably and sensibly with the City and people of Kaktovik, the City of Kaktovik, on behalf of our people, has no choice but to treat Shell Oil as a hostile and dangerous force,” the resolution stated in part.

Shell announced plans in April to shoot seismic in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas this summer and fall as weather and sea ice conditions permit and according to a timetable specified by subsistence whale hunters. The company aims to bring in two vessels from Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands in July to carry out the tests. In parallel with the seismic operations, Shell also plans to bring in a vessel from the Canadian Beaufort to perform site-clearing operations to identify shallow water hazards in the Beaufort as part of a two-to-three-year exploration program.

On April 24, whaling captains’ associations of five North Slope communities, including Kaktovik, signed a conflict avoidance agreement with several oil companies, including Shell, that are seeking permission to work offshore in the Arctic this season.

At the time, Shell’s lead health, safety and environment officer, Mark Kosiara, said Shell has a strong safety culture and is committed to doing everything it can to minimize the impact of company activities on subsistence whaling hunts.

Lack of respect, says mayor

Shell, however, failed to address Kaktovik concerns in a “respectful, timely, and professional” manner, according to the village’s city council.

“We’ve been trying for a year to develop communication with Shell that would give us a measure of confidence about their intentions and their ability to function safely in our homeland waters. They just keep working against us at every turn,” said Kaktovik Mayor Lon Sonsalla in a statement announcing the resolution May 12. Sonsalla said Shell has consistently tried to undermine the city’s role as the only body elected to represent Kaktovik residents.

“Instead of technical staff or people with authority, they send public affairs,” Sonsalla said. “Instead of true consultation with community leaders on substantive issues, they try to schedule superficial social gatherings where they can talk at us. They have left the distinct impression that they are trying to co-opt this community instead of sitting down to address our concerns.”

Sonsalla said Kaktovik residents have a lot of concerns about the prospective impact of offshore seismic activity on migrating bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea as well as the ability of Shell or anyone else to operate safely in the unpredictable sea ice.

Kaktovik is located on the shores of the Beaufort Sea within the borders of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Shell spokesman Cam Toohey said his company is committed to engaging in consulting with all of the North Slope communities and welcomes continued communication with the communities, including Kaktovik.

“Shell stands ready to meet with the community at any time,” Toohey said May 18. “Obviously, we’re very concerned about this resolution and our relationship with the community of Kaktovik.” He added that the company is currently in communication with Kaktovik officials.

Toohey declined further comment, saying Shell would rather not play out in the press the details of its ongoing relationship with Kaktovik.

Offshore worries

While Kaktovik residents are confident they can work with the oil industry, especially onshore in the Arctic, that confidence fades when oil companies venture offshore.

“That’s why, with assurances that we can help oversee it, we are comfortable with oil leasing on the coastal plain of ANWR,” Sonsalla said. “However, we simply do not have the same sense of security when it comes to offshore operations. No sense of security at all.”

Kaktovik residents have long been receptive to responsible oil industry activities and never felt the need to take such a position to protect them, Sonsalla added.

“We’ve made our position very clear,” Sonsalla said. “We need answers, and we demand respect for our people, our way of life.”

The resolution directs the mayor to use “all available resources of the city to fulfill the spirit of this resolution and to take such administrative, political and legal actions as may be available and necessary to defend the community.”

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