Rural Resources and Political Power: Understanding Incentive Structures, Local Agency, and Oil Development in the Northwest Territories and Alaska

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Gwich'in Settlement Area, North Slave Region

Tags: climate change, political science, comparative case study, oil development, industry

Principal Investigator: Schober, Kelsey (1)
Licence Number: 16740
Organization: University of Alberta
Licensed Year(s): 2020
Issued: Aug 21, 2020
Project Team: Roger Epp, Kelsey Schober

Objective(s): To examine the policies that structure the current oil and gas extraction regime from a policy perspective and compare them with those of the neighboring Alaska.

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.4612.

Oil has driven migration, community growth, and governance of the last century in the Arctic. However, as Arctic global warming surpasses 1°C with “profound consequences”, the relationship between oil and climate change becomes increasingly contentious and impossible to ignore. In light of this tension, my research asks: how is oil development structurally and politically incentivized, even as the Arctic faces disproportionate impacts of climate change that directly threaten the culture, infrastructure, and economy of communities? On a more local scale: what pressures exist for residents, communities, and governments to approve oil drilling projects? Ultimately, the aim is to understand what the pressure to say ‘yes’ to these projects looks like as well as how it can be reconciled with perspectives of residents for whom oil and climate change are everyday realities. This research in the Northwest Territories will be presented alongside parallel research in Alaska in order to better understand the relationship between political policies, federal power, local participation, and oil development and identify future opportunities for collaboration.

The research approaches sustainable communities from a policy perspective, examining the policies that structure the current oil and gas extraction regime and comparing them with those of the neighboring Alaska. This research comes from a place of applied curiosity: what are the approaches of other Northern communities, governments, and Indigenous nations that Alaska can learn from? Where are we similar, where are we different, and what experiences can we share in order to build the best future for our communities?

The Principal Investigator (PI) will seek to meet leaders, community representatives, and residents with whom the PI can continue working relationships. The PI would like to identify how research skills and expertise can be of use of the Gwich’in Tribal Council and Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, as well as what role the PI can play in growing research capacity within the communities. The PI is interested in two perspectives: that of state level decision makers and citizen level understandings; and the overlapping institutions that are capable of influencing decision making, namely: federal governments, state/territorial governments, tribal or Indigenous councils, and Native-owned regional and village corporations. The PI will conduct semi-structured interviews in Yellowknife with legislators, Indigenous leaders, and experts. The PI will begin with already-known contacts and use snowball sampling to identify other appropriate interviewees. Snowball sampling is a technique that involves asking interviewees to introduce you to other people that may be relevant to your research. In this way, the work is relational. It also asks for increased researcher accountability, as the researcher is not only accountable to their interviewee but also the person who referred them there.

To gain an understanding of citizen-level beliefs and values about oil, the PI will conduct fieldwork in the community of Inuvik. I will conduct fieldwork in this community because it is central to oil politics, experiences the impacts of the oil industry and climate change daily, and houses Indigenous corporations and offices for oil companies.

The PI will plan on connecting and engaging with these communities not just as a way of discussing the research, but as a way of directly involving communities and organizations in my fieldwork. The PI wants to conduct research that is relevant to the community, and initial communication will be used to ensure this is the case. The PI will stay in communication with interviewees to validate quotes or data that was pulled from our conversations to ensure the intended message is being appropriately conveyed. Final copies of the work will be sent to participants that were involved. The PI hopes to return to communities to discuss my research in further depth. The time, place, and structure of these discussions will be developed in partnership with in-community organizations so that they can be catered to the needs and interests of the community.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from August 22, 2020 to December 31, 2020.