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Petroleum News: Kaktovik’s Native village corporation, unlike village, will work with Shell

Kaktovik’s Native village corporation has distanced itself from a village government resolution denouncing Shell Oil for pursuing oil exploration in whaling grounds offshore northern Alaska.

The Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. said the week of June 5 that “the best way to deal with Shell Oil Co. is to work out issues in a civil and cordial manner.”

In May, the village City Council passed a resolution calling Shell “a hostile and dangerous force” and authorizing the mayor to take legal or other actions necessary to “defend the community.”

Mayor Lon Sonsalla said Shell had failed to address village concerns about how it would keep seismic testing scheduled for this summer from disturbing migratory bowhead whales and how the company would operate safely in unpredictable sea ice.

Last year Shell leased nearly a half million acres in federal waters of the Beaufort Sea, some near Kaktovik, an Inupiat village of nearly 300 people on the Beaufort coast.

Shell’s seismic tests this summer call for using airguns from a ship to send sound pulses through the sea floor. The pulses bounce back up to the ship for an image of rock formations potentially bearing oil and gas.

Shell needs permits from the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which regulates offshore oil operations, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which manages sea mammals such as the bowhead whale.

The Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. owns land near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain and has supported opening that area to oil development. Its shareholders include Kaktovik residents and whaling captains.

However, the corporation “opposes all activity at our whaling grounds,” it said in the statement, and it has concerns about how well oil spills can be prevented or cleaned.

But it noted that Shell has negotiated with North Slope whalers over its Beaufort activity and has signed an agreement to shut down until Kaktovik, Nuiqsut and Barrow whalers meet their quotas.

“The reality is the federal government has already sold oil leases and activity will take place,” the corporation said. KIC is “willing to work with Shell Oil Co. so that we may have a say on what goes on during whaling and other subsistence that we engage in.”

—Bill White, Anchorage Daily News

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