Gas shortage and failing equipment leaves Shungnak residents with few fuel options

A village on a lake and a river below low hills
The Native Village of Shungnak (Photo courtesy of Northwest Arctic Borough)

The Northwest Arctic Borough village of Shungnak has not had any gasoline since April and is looking at a long wait for a new fuel truck.

Shungnak is about 280 river miles east of Kotzebue, up the winding Kobuk River. The only year-round access is a 150-mile airplane ride. You can also get there by river in the summer and snowmachine in the winter. The roughly 270 residents get their gasoline from the Shungnak Native Store, but the store hasn’t been able to supply any since April. Tribal administrator Kathy Custer says the village is facing several logistical challenges.

Fuel is delivered to the village by air in the winter and Glenda Douglas, the manager of the Shungnak Native Store, said the 70s-era vintage fuel truck they used to transport fuel from the airport to the store has been broken down since last year.

“The one that we did have was very old,” Douglas said.

Douglas said the first summer barge is scheduled to arrive in the village later this week with a fresh fuel supply, which can be transported to the tanks without a truck.

“Crowley usually brings their own line that runs from the barge to our tank farm,” Douglas said.

But there are a few more hurdles still in the way. The gasoline pump at the store isn’t operational.

“The stove oil side is good,” Douglas said. “It’s just our gas side that isn’t working right now.”

Douglas said that while they work on fixing the gas pump, village residents have been traveling ten miles up the river to get fuel in Kobuk.

An additional problem Shungnak residents face is the fuel they do have is contaminated with water. Douglas said there are two gasoline tanks at the Shungnak Native Store and workers have transferred all of the contaminated fuel to one tank, so they can refill the clean tank with the fresh fuel shipment arriving by barge. She said she hopes the store can get someone to Shungnak to help them clean the water-fouled tank before too long.

A new fuel truck will have to travel by air to the village, adding to the overall expense, as there will only be one more barge coming in the fall.

“They’d fly it here to Shungnak because we missed the barge,” Douglas said. “Unless we’re able to wait for this fall.”

Douglas says the Native Village of Shungnak is working on a grant to purchase a new fuel truck. The village will likely face another fuel shortage this winter if these issues can’t be addressed in the coming months.

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