Box 3. Case Study: Health Impact Assessment

Box 3. Case Study:  Health Impact Assessment

Oil drilling has taken place in Alaska since 1967. With the expansion of the industry in recent decades, some development activities began to occur near rural Alaskan native communities in the North Slope region, where some residents began expressing health concerns. In 2006, local tribal leaders and the borough government responded with a decision to jointly conduct the region’s first HIA. The project’s goals were to address community concerns and bring a more systematic, evidence-based approach to integrating public health data into the oil and gas planning and regulatory process. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agreed to integrate the HIA into an existing environmental impact statement (EIS) process for proposed oil and gas leasing near several local villages.

The study produced some significant findings. The HIA highlighted potential impacts on regional fish and wildlife populations, which would have consequences for local diet and nutrition. It also recognized potential social changes that the anticipated large increase in population would bring to the region. Finally, the HIA acknowledged the potential benefits for local communities, such as increased revenues to support police and emergency services, education, and public health programming.

As a result of the HIA’s identification of specific risks to the community, preventative measures were taken to prepare the community for the expected changes, including:

  • new BLM requirements for monitoring contaminants in locally-harvested fish and game
  • air quality modelling for large industry facilities located near villages
  • water quality monitoring
  • worker education programs on drug and alcohol use and sexually transmitted diseases

The HIA process also led to a new level of collaboration between state and tribal public health authorities; state and federal regulators; and industry. The state subsequently established an HIA program and now conducts HIAs for large projects throughout Alaska.

Sources:  Aaron Wernham, “Inupiat Health and Proposed Alaskan Oil Development:  Results of the First Integrated Health Impact Assessment/ Environmental Impact Statement for Proposed Oil Development on Alaska’s North Slope,” EcoHealth 4 (2007), 500513; The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Case Study: Oil Development, North Slope of Alaska” (December 30, 2006)