Narratives in Conflicts: Alaska Natives and Offshore Drilling in the Arctic

Burger, Michael

This Symposium Essay examines and elucidates the ways in which the narrative constructions that constitute the “imaginary Arctic” factor into litigation surrounding Shell Oil’s highly controversial attempts to drill for oil and gas in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska’s North Slope. Judges, lawyers and litigants involved in the Shell litigation have deployed a number of well-established storylines against each other: the Arctic as Classical Frontier, the Arctic as Spiritualized Frontier, the Arctic as Ancestral Homeland, the Arctic as Developing World, and the Arctic as Neutral Space. The litigation literature produced by this “battle for the Arctic” offers an opportunity to observe how conflicting narratives about nature figure into the rhetorical strategies of lawyers and judges -- and thus how they factor into the law. In addition, the role of Inupiat narratives in the litigation and underlying administrative proceedings illustrates that -- accepting the bargain struck in the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act as a given -- the layered United States system of administrative permitting and judicial review does not violate indigenous peoples’ rights under relevant provisions of international law.

Geographic Areas


Also Published In

Nordic Environmental Law Journal

More About This Work

Academic Units
Sabin Center for Climate Change Law
Published Here
July 13, 2015