National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska Oil Development Plan

Authors: Alaska Intertribal Council, Columbia University Institute on Medicine as a Profession

Location: Alaska, United States

Completion Date: September 2008

HIA Report: Bureau of Land Management Alaska - NPR

Summary of the HIA

Proposed Policy or Project

Pending approval by the Bureau of Land Management of a five-year oil and gas leasing plan in Alaska’s Northeast Petroleum Reserve (Section A).

Background and Policy Context

Our HIA addressed proposed oil and gas leasing in the 4.6-million-acre Northeast NPR-A, which lies within Alaska’s 89,000-square-mile North Slope Borough (NSB). The first major oil discovery on the North Slope occurred at Prudhoe Bay in 1967. Over the three decades since full-scale production began at Prudhoe Bay, development has spread closer to villages and areas of active subsistence use both on- and offshore.

For years, indigenous Nuiqsut residents have expressed concern about the potential associations between oil development and health. In public hearings, residents have testified to concerns ranging from possible effects of contaminants (including cancer, asthma, and thyroid disease) to a rise in social problems such as alcoholism, domestic violence, and suicide (Ahtuangaruak, 2003), and, increasingly, to more generalized fears regarding the survival of Inupiat culture and tradition.

To date, this is the first HIA undertaken for oil and gas development on Alaska's North Slope. It also represents the first formal effort of an HIA undertaken with the legal framework of the National Environmental Policy Act, the statute that established the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process and which forms the foundation of environmental regulation in the US.

Scope and Methods

This qualitative HIA was conducted as part of a federally mandated environmental impact statement (EIS) process. As a recognized “cooperating agency,” in the EIS process the North Slope Borough (for whom Aaron Wernham prepared the HIA) was able to insert the HIA into the EIS

Methods included a combination of stakeholder input, literature review (peer-reviewed research literature and agency documents), and qualitative analysis. The possible health outcomes analyzed included increases in diabetes and related metabolic conditions as a result of dietary change; rising rates of substance abuse, domestic violence, and suicide; increased injury rates; more frequent asthma exacerbations; and increased exposure to organic pollutant, including carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Potential benefits were also examined, including funding for infrastructure and health care; increased employment and income; and continued funding of existing infrastructure.

Background Reports


Aaron Wernham, MD, MS

901 E. Street NW
District of Columbia

(202) 540-6012