When the wind blows in from the vast oil operations, noses run and asthma flares up. Concerns about respiratory illness have risen as North Slope drilling spreads.
The Arctic landscape is devoid of color during the frozen days of February. There’s the white of the tundra, the white of sea ice and often the sky, and the darkness of cold, long nights.
So when a wall of coffee-colored smoke rolled toward the small village of Nuiqsut in 2012, there was no mistaking—something was wrong.
Martha Itta, of the native village government, was at her desk when a colleague burst through the door and shouted “Check Facebook!” A worker on an oil well site 18 miles away, owned by the Spanish company Repsol, had posted a video.
“Rig’s having a blowout here. They’re evacuating the rig,” the worker said as drilling mud and smoke spewed into the air and onto the tundra. “Ain’t f—ing looking so good.”