In 2018, ConocoPhillips' winter work plan included drilling an exploration well, Putu 2, which was only four miles from the North Slope village of Nuiqsut.
Naturally, the 450 village residents were concerned about potential impacts from the project, says Lisa Pekich, director of village outreach for ConocoPhillips. So long before any drilling took place, the oil company took the time to meet with residents and the North Slope Borough to address those concerns.
"There were lots of concerns in the community about being that close, from emergency response to, just in general, seeing the facility," Pekich says. "Air emissions are a concern--any community that's got industrial activity around it has concerns about air emissions."
It took quite a bit of time--ConocoPhillips deferred drilling the well for a year, Pekich says--but in the end the parties agreed on a robust mitigation plan that allowed the project to move forward.
ConocoPhillips addressed noise and air quality concerns by using an innovative, highly efficient electric generator to power the drilling rig instead of a traditional diesel-fired rig. It also moved the generator a mile farther from the village.
"We used an enclosed flare, so it wasn't visible, and we had some lighting mitigation so it wouldn't be so bright from the community," she says. In addition, ConocoPhillips used mobile monitoring stations to keep tabs on air quality and on the village's freshwater lake.
In the end, the project met with approval through the borough's permitting process, as well as the Nuiqsut village corporation, Kuukpik. The 2018 winter exploration season was a successful one for ConocoPhillips, Alaska's largest oil producer. Putu 2 and two other nearby exploration wells struck oil. They are near two major recent oil discoveries: ConocoPhillips' Willow and Armstrong/Oil Search's Pikka.
This kind of cooperation between companies and Alaska Native corporations and communities is crucial to major resource development in the state. Enormous deposits of metals such as gold, copper, and zinc, as well as oil and gas, are located on or near land owned by the Alaska Native regional and village corporations, whose shareholders have deep cultural ties to the land and rely on it to live.
The benefits of resource development on Alaska Native lands isn't restricted to local communities: they're felt statewide because of a clause in the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that created the Alaska Native corporations. The clause, called 7(i), requires Alaska Native...