The bush plane lurched off the gravel airstrip, banked slowly over the village of Kaktovik, and was soon a yellow dot soaring over a brown sea of tundra—and perhaps the most contested real estate in the United States.
The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been for millennia the summer home of hordes of caribou and migratory birds, the winter home of polar bears, and a hunting ground for Alaska natives. It also may hide some 7.7 billion barrels of oil, and therein lies the problem.
When Congress created the 19.3-million-acre refuge in 1980, the nation was facing its second oil crisis in less than a decade. So lawmakers postponed deciding the fate of a potentially oil-rich area, covering 1.5 million acres, of the coastal plain. They’ve been fighting over it ever since.