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Iñupiat people resist offshore oil drilling and gas development plans in Point Hope, Alaska, USA

When oil prices went up, the federal government proposed the 2007-2012 offshore oil and gas plan, with hundreds of leases pending for approval. Caroline Cannon pursued legal action and canceled all but one lease in the Arctic.


Point Hope is a remote village on the shores of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Circle [1]. The surrounding area is rich in biodiversity such as polar bears, whales, fish, birds, and caribou. Such natural richness has allowed the Iñupiat indigenous people to thrive in Point Hope for centuries in one of Alaska’s oldest continuously occupied communities. However, its current population of 700 residents also one of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Within 50 to 100 years, sea level rises are predicted to cover most of Point Hope. Gradual temperature increases have already led to shore erosion and flood risks, which provide ample challenges to the community and public health. Storm surges and ice jams make evacuation difficult by compromising the airstrip and roads. Changes in weather and ice conditions delay the timing of spring whale and walrus hunts. Ice conditions have been inadequate in recent years to provide haul-out platforms for walrus, or for hunters to clean bowhead whales. Shore ice has become unstable, putting hunters at greater risk for injury. Hungry polar bears have begun to frequent Point Hope, becoming a public safety concern. Warm summer temperatures are providing opportunities for invasive species to outcrowd native ones, spread disease, and even interfere with subsistence activities. The permafrost that cools traditional underground food storage cellars is thawing, and there are currently no community alternatives for storage of whale meat and blubber. Algal blooms are making 7 Mile Lake, the community’s drinking water source, increasingly toxic [3]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Iñupiat people resist offshore oil drilling and gas development plans in Point Hope, Alaska, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Alaska
Location of conflict:Point Hope
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Climate change related conflicts (glaciers and small islands)
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Natural Gas
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The proposed leases generated almost $2.7 billion for the government from over a million hectares worth of leases [4].

Level of Investment:2,700,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/05/2006
Relevant government actors:U.S. Federal Court
Minerals Management Service
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:EarthJustice
Resisting Environmental Destruction
Alaska Wildlife Society
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Wastepickers, recyclers
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups

Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Shareholder/financial activism.
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Genetic contamination, Global warming, Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Air pollution, Noise pollution, Oil spills, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Accidents, Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Displacement, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project cancelled
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:This was a partial victory canceling all but one of hundreds of oil leases sold near Point Hope and banning future lease sales nearby.
Sources & Materials

[1] Goldman Prize. Caroline Cannon (2012)
[click to view]

[4] NBC News. Judge halts oil, gas drilling off Northwest Alaska (Joling 2010)
[click to view]

[5] Scientific American. What Will Ice-Free Arctic Summers Bring? (Biello 2012)
[click to view]

[7] Treehugger. Inupiat Woman Wins Goldman Prize for Leading Fight Against Arctic Drilling (Cernansky 2012)
[click to view]

[8] Pacific Environment. Caroline Cannon 2012 Goldman Prize Winner (2012)
[click to view]

[9] Earthkeepers. Caroline Cannon (Bailey 2012)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Documentary: The Battle for Point Hope (BBC 2012)
[click to view]

[6] Podcast: Goldman Prize Winner Caroline Cannon (Living on Earth with Bruce Gellerman 2012)
[click to view]

Other documents

Caroline Cannon Photo: Goldman Prize
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update24/03/2020
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