Oil on Ice Movie Review

During his 1988 campaign for president, George H.W. Bush made a campaign promise to open a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) to new oil drilling. But just two months into his single term, an Exxon tanker called Valdez smacked into a reef and dumped somewhere north of 11 million gallons of crude onto the Alaskan coast. ANWR was, for the time being, safe from giant drills.

When the next oilman named Bush arrived in Washington 12 years later, ANWR was back on the political table, touted as the greatest boon to support American energy independence. To allay environmental fears, the energy industry spun extraction as non-invasive to native species, and even Alaska's elected representatives dismissed the ecology of ANWR as little more than lifeless white space.

Bo Boudart and Dale Djerassi's 60-minute Oil on Ice is unabashed counter-propaganda to the pro-drilling forces. Their argument is this: ANWR is absolutely teeming with life, including large caribou herds that do most of their calving in the ANWR section that's designated for drilling. Populations of native peoples rely on these caribou for their meager subsistence, and oil has already dealt these folks a double whammy with the disturbance of caribou migration patterns and climate change. Meanwhile, the oil extracted from ANWR won't contribute to American energy independence after all, because the energy companies will sell it on the world oil market; most will be bound for Asia.

The professional production makes Oil on Ice a powerful story, with astonishing wildlife photography and fascinating and tragic tales of the plights of local fishermen and native tribes that rely on conserving the land and water to survive. Particularly affecting is Adeline Peter Raboff, a Gwich'in Indian from a town inside ANWR who serves as the spiritual and historical guide to mankind's co-existence with nature inside the reserve.

Oil on Ice is also as one-sided as an episode of The O'Reilly Factor. In its purportedly macro view on the ANWR issue, including interviews with local politicians and business environmental ethicist Amory Lovins, Oil on Ice completely fails to address any positive economic impacts that the oil industry has had on Alaskans. No one except Alaska's politicians and the current President Bush appears in the film to support drilling. Are any of the Gwich'in excited about getting an oil job and out of the subsistence lifestyle? Among the sweeping beauty of the Alaskan country and wildlife, one can't escape the feeling that something has been left out.

That's counter-propaganda for you. But at least it's well-made counter-propaganda.

If anything, Oil on Ice is worth seeing just to see exactly what ExxonMobil and CononoPhillips are getting ready to tear into. Whether drilling there is a good idea or not for mankind in the long run will require a little more research.


Oil on Ice Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 2004


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