Homer writer McKibben Jackinsky’s first book, “Too Close to Home? Living with ‘drill baby’ on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula” tells the story of recent oil and gas development on the southern peninsula through the voices of property owners who have been affected by that development.
Because Jackinsky is one of those property owners, it is also her story and her family’s story.
Jackinsky’s roots run deep in Alaska. Her Russian-Alutiiq great-great-great-grandparents were among the founders of Ninilchik. She spent many of her growing up years on the family’s homestead in Ninilchik. The family fished commercially on the beach below the homestead during the summers. As an adult, it was to the homestead Jackinsky returned for shelter when life’s storms hit.
When her two daughters were young, she rebuilt the ramshackle homestead cabin into a home for them. Eventually she would build her own cabin on the 3-acre parcel that was her share of the family property.
Those things are important to the book because they ground and connect Jackinsky to this particular place on the planet — and make it clear why when she and her daughters got a letter in June of 2013 from Hilcorp expressing interest in leasing their Ninilchik property for oil and gas exploration, the answer was “no.”
Jackinsky had been pondering the “too close to home” question way before that, however. As a reporter for the Homer News, she did many stories on efforts to bring natural gas to Homer. One of those stories in 2011 included interviews with North Fork Road neighbors Mark and Juley McConnell — who posted a “drill, baby, drill” sign in their front yard — and Rick and Lori Paulsrud, who told Jackinsky if they had known their quiet, rural neighborhood would be the center of industrial activity they would never have purchased their home 11 years earlier.
The sharp contrast in experience — one family grateful for the job the oil and gas development brought and the other saddened by the loss of their peaceful lifestyle — stuck with Jackinsky.
And it raised bigger questions: Do the benefits of oil and gas development to the many justify harm to a few? What about harm to the planet — contributing to global warming, for example? Is there a long-term cost to the harm done that negates the short-term benefits?
When she began work on the book, Jackinsky says she saw the harm from oil and gas development mostly in terms of lifestyles lost and an intrusion on individual lives. Talking with Bob Shavelson of Cook Inletkeeper gave her a whole new perspective.
“He put it together in a bigger picture than I had framed it, by saying it was about the gorilla in the room — climate change. And that gave it a much bigger perspective, for me, in terms of what was at stake,” says Jackinsky.
She notes that even though natural gas may be a cleaner, cheaper source of energy than fuel oil, it’s still a fossil fuel, one of the leading causes of climate change.
“I was just reading a report that Alaska leads the nation in terms of increased temperatures. Alaska really is the canary in the coal mine on this,” she says.
Regardless of how one feels about oil and gas development on the peninsula, Jackinsky hopes her book can spark a community conversation about the issue — particularly because there’s going to be more.
“At the least, we need to be better informed because it’s changing the Kenai Peninsula in ways most of us don’t realize,” she says. “If we don’t know about it, we won’t have a say.”
As a former employee for one of the big oil companies operating in Alaska, Jackinsky is well aware of the seductiveness of oil and gas development.
“We are promised jobs. We are promised a better way of life. Better roads. Better schools. In our communities, in our backyards, it looks so harmless. The promises are very alluring. But one after another, those little decisions get us where we are now collectively as a state with our head in a noose — a $4 billion noose,” she says, referencing the state’s budget deficit, the direct result of low oil and gas prices.
Jackinsky’s journalism background is reflected in “Too Close To Home?” Research for the book included 77 interviews either in person, by phone or by email, and 40 pages of the book are dedicated to reference citations.
While she confesses to at times being overwhelmed with the feeling that little can be done to combat the power of oil and gas in daily life, Jackinsky remains hopeful of the power of individuals to make small decisions that can chart a new course toward a sustainable energy source that, as she says, “will give generations after us a livable world.”
While looking for that alternative source of energy, she encourages people to do the small things — carpool, walk more often, turn the lights out when no one is in a room, bring your own cup when you get coffee, live just a little less extravagantly.
Those things do matter. She quotes Anchorage author-journalist-mountaineer Art Davidson to drive home the point in “Too Close To Home?”: “ … I’d like Alaskans, myself included, to take more time to appreciate how fortunate we are to live in one of the most spectacular and abundant natural environments on earth. This land is good to us — we have to find ways to be more responsible for it. The process of change starts with one person. And it starts with a personal decision.”
For Jackinsky that personal decision was not signing that lease offer back in 2013.
And then writing her first book.
Lori Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.