Extreme Conditions: Big Oil and the Transformation of Alaska
Bargain Book Copy
Pulitzer-winning journalist Strohmeyer (Crisis in Bethlehem, 1986) examines in relentless, devastating detail the wealth of miseries brought to Alaska with the 1967 discovery of oil deposits at Prudhoe Bay. In chronicling oil exploration in the region from post-WW II prestatehood days onward, a number of key figures emerge--from gung-ho state boosters to field engineers whose optimistic prognostications were finally justified, and on to the Native American activists whose vigilance enabled their people to gain a sizable share of the bounty through leases of their land. With the first big strikes came a variety of turf battles, such as a lengthy dispute over the construction of an 800-mile pipeline from the oil fields, or one over the right to dispense enormous state revenues garnered from the crude once it began to flow. Swindles abounded as politicians and businessmen vied for a piece of the action, with corruption also tainting the Native Americans, who experienced for the first time the seductive pleasures of a cash economy. A particularly egregious misuse of oil money occurred in the North Slope municipality of Barrow as millions were siphoned from public- works projects by advisers to the Eskimo mayor in the early 1980's, creating a statewide scandal and prompting litigation that ultimately allowed the worst offenders to go unpunished. Furthermore, the influence of oil interests lulled legislators into a sense of false security regarding supertankers plying Alaska's dangerous waters, so that the disastrous spill from the Exxon Valdez in 1989 was simply an accident waiting to happen. At times overly strident in its crusading tone, but still a damning, vivid study of a state all but undone by wealth and greed.
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