Residents of Nuiqsut ask the borough to take better security measures

Two months after the Alpine gas leak, some Nuiqsut residents still worry about the lack of help from government officials.

Several residents, including Nuiqsut Town Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, Bernice Kaigelak of the Arctic Slope Indigenous Association and Nuiqsut Indigenous Village Programs Coordinator Eunice Brower – addressed the north slope on May 3, stating that municipal authorities should have paid more attention to the escape and safety of Nuiqsut residents.

“North Slope Borough is responsible for village health, life and security,” Ahtuangaruak said. “Nobody wanted to answer Nuiqsut’s questions; nobody wanted to come to Nuiqsut during this event.”

The gas leak was reported by ConocoPhillips in March, detected at the drill site eight miles north of Nuiqsut. In response, the company suspended operations on the platform and evacuated 300 non-essential employees.

Throughout the incident, company officials, along with North Slope Borough and Kuukpik Corporation executives, reassured Nuiqsut residents that the Alpine leak posed no threat to public safety. .

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was monitoring the situation and “based on its investigation to date, the commission (was) not aware of any threat to public safety,” the statement said. special assistant Grace Salazar.

But residents of Nuiqsut reacted with concern to news of the gas leak.

Ahtuangaruak, the mayor, said some residents have reported smelling gas and complaining of headaches. In spirited community meetings, people asked if their families were strong enough to risk being exposed. The village was considering issuing an evacuation order, and more than 20 Nuiqsut families, fearing the progress of the flight, left the village and stayed away from their homes for weeks.

“For our families who chose to evacuate, they felt these health effects,” Ahtuangaruak said last Tuesday. “Everyone was making decisions, especially for elders, children and people with health issues. We breathe this air, we have felt these headaches, we have seen our elders struggle for weeks to wait for the air to improve.”

Ahtuangaruak said after the incident, she and other village officials had a better idea of ​​the challenges of emergency mitigation. To help residents worried about their health, Ahtuangaruak said he was advised to use existing mitigation funds, but that money – $400 for a household – was nowhere near enough.

“It might have given them gas, but it wouldn’t have gotten them plane tickets, food, housing, or helped them find other work situations,” he said. said Ahtuangaruak. “Family members were asking me about these considerations.”

According to Ahtuangaruak, when the leak first occurred, residents had no alarms and received no notification about the event. Those who did not attend safety meetings were unaware that there had been an adverse event. She said while the CD1 pad and surrounding area was considered unsafe, security was not stationed to prevent residents and visitors from entering the unsafe area.

Ahtuangaruak said he called various borough officials in March ????” the mayor’s office, the risk management team, the fire department and the clinic – but received no response.

“I’m still waiting for the encore of this event,” she said last week.

Borough officials did not respond to repeated calls and emails from the Arctic Sounder regarding general protocols in place for emergencies.

ConocoPhillips initially held meetings with village leaders and also spoke at several community meetings, but a week into the event they ended daily calls with the community and referred questions to a company-sponsored website.

Since March, most Nuiqsut families have returned to town, but there are still “community members who are very concerned about their health”, Ahtuangaruak said.

Residents’ concern is amplified because the Alpine gas leak is not the first time the community has felt endangered by the oil and gas development industry.

Ahtuangaruak said Nuiqsut is “reacting to experiencing past events”, such as an eruption 10 years ago at a drilling site run by Spanish oil company Repsol.

During that event, Ahtuangaruak said, the gas emissions lasted for several days and the community hunkered down and suffered respiratory distress for weeks. Yet development is accelerating in the region, she said.

“The Repsol explosion, 17 miles away, you learned nothing from that,” she said. “You brought the development within 4 miles of our village.”

Despite community opposition – and “over 200 community members present at the meeting who stampeded their feet saying ‘No! No to the Tutu Project, the Tutu Project placed a drilling site close to the village and the local school.

“On the first day of drilling, a fifth-grade student asked me, ‘When should we be worried about the blowout?'” Ahtuangaruak said.

The Willow Project is another new resource development site that will be located south of Nuiqsut.

Ahtuangaruak said that during the overall planning meeting, she argued that the plan should include an emergency preparedness plan to guide decision-makers when assessing difficult situations and industry-related emergencies.

During the borough assembly, citizens ask for improvements to the intervention process and the protection of their way of life.

“There should be further action until there is a better understanding of what happened and why it happened,” Ahtuangaruak said. “We need decision-making criteria that evaluate decisions to change our lands and waters, that protect the life, health and safety of our communities, and the importance of our tradition and culture.”

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Susan W. Lloyd