Impact of Transportation Systems on the Communities of Western Alaska: Analysis of the Literature

(By Nicholas E. Flanders; INSROP Working Paper No. 33 – 1996, IV.4.1)


This report examines the recent social impact literature associated with the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil leasing program of the US government and other relevant impact studies done for resource development in Western Alaska. The OCS literature provides insights into the potential effects on the communities of the Bering and Chukchi Seas of opening the Northern Sea Route (NSR) to international traffic. Of particular interest is the literature on the transport system associated with oil development. Similarities between the NSR and the OCS transportation system are many, including use of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor as a major terminal and ship traffic through and around the Bering Sea. This review does not attempt a coherent profile of the sociocultural impacts of the NSR. Such a profile will require further information gathering, as detailed in the conclusions. Rather, it is part of the scoping and assessment process. 'Scoping' means a preliminary listing of possible impacts from a particular activity. That list may include items that the complete assessment later dismisses as unimportant. This report provides a pastiche of information found in previous analyses that may prove important in the assessment of INSROP.

An analysis of the petroleum transport literature helps two tasks. The literature is based upon extensive scoping for the possible impacts of increased marine transport activity in the area. Thus, the oil transportation literature can suggest the possible impacts of the NSR on Arctic coastal communities. The literature also looks at the possible cumulative effects of petroleum activities when combined with the development of a Bering Sea groundfish industry. The literature can thus suggest potential cumulative impacts from all three activities.

This report contains four main sections. The first describes and evaluates the literature. The second looks at the city of Unalaska. The community has been well studied as a potential base for petroleum-related activities in the Bering Sea (Han-Padron Associates, 1984; Louis Berger and Associates, 1983). Various scenarios for the expansion of this activity and its impact on the community have already been developed. The third part considers the other villages of the region.

The concluding section lays out the implications of this scoping exercise for studies in Russia and the information needed for a complete evaluation of the NSR’s potential impacts. Petroleum-related activities are the basis for the literature reviewed. Extrapolating to an expanded cargo transportation system requires speculation since the type of cargo may influence the scenarios developed.

In preparing this report, the author reviewed more studies than this report discusses. Several studies provided baseline information about the sociocultural characteristics of this area. A subsequent report will consider this material. Others did not deal directly with transportation or sociocultural issues.


    Nicholas E. Flanders, 1996, Impact of Transportation Systems on the Communities of Western Alaska: Analysis of the Literature, INSROP.©