BOX 3-3Assessment: Northeast National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska

In 1998, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) completed a Northeast National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). BLM later considered amending the EIS to make additional public lands available for oil and gas leasing in the original 4.6-million-acre planning area. The local North Slope Borough government—an agency that participated in preparing the EIS—conducted an HIA, which was integrated into the EIS report.

The HIA drew on public testimony, literature review, and accepted mechanisms of health and illness to establish the scope of health concerns that should be considered. A logic framework was produced to guide the assessment. The associations between expected disturbances and changes in health were then analyzed in more depth to look at the alternatives proposed for the expansion and at the cumulative effects of oil exploration and extraction. The HIA team identified the pathways in which the expansion would affect the lives of the primarily Iñupiat residents of the area. Activities directly or indirectly associated with oil and gas—including aircraft traffic, seismic exploration, influx of nonresident workers, and emissions and discharges—were identified, and pathways were analyzed to consider their impacts on such problems as diet-related chronic illnesses (for example, diabetes and hypertension), food insecurity, and social pathology (for example, assault, alcohol and drug abuse, and violence). Those pathways and others were evaluated by using public-health data, literature on analogous populations, knowledge about accepted mechanisms of health and disease, witness testimony, and the effects analysis of other resources.

The discussion described pathways by which Iñupiat health was likely to be affected. For example, under Alternative A, diabetes and metabolic disorders would be expected to increase if impacts on subsistence led to declining subsistence harvests (through declining populations of subsistence resources, displacement of resources that made hunting less successful, or displacement of hunters by oil activity and infrastructure). It identified which areas and villages were most likely to be affected and when. The assessment also highlighted several potential benefits, such as “funding for infrastructure and health care; increased employment and income; and continued funding of existing infrastructure” (BLM 2007, p. 500). Because the biologists on the EIS team were uncertain of the degree to which subsistence harvests might be favorably or adversely affected, the HIA did not attempt to make quantitative estimates of the probability or intensity of the impact.

Public-health professionals reviewed the results of the analysis. On the basis of the findings, the HIA recommended a series of public-health mitigation measures that were selected to maximize any favorable impacts and to minimize harms.

Source: Adapted from BLM 2007 and Wernham 2007.

From: 3, Elements of a Health Impact Assessment

Cover of Improving Health in the United States
Improving Health in the United States: The Role of Health Impact Assessment.
National Research Council (US) Committee on Health Impact Assessment.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011.
Copyright © 2011, National Academy of Sciences.

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