Overview - Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is the largest unit in the National Wildlife Refuge System and is one of America's finest intact, naturally functioning arctic/sub-arctic ecosystems. The broad spectrum of diverse habitats and fauna and flora occurring within a single protected unit is unparalleled in North America, and perhaps in the entire arctic region of the northern hemisphere. ANWR contains the Brooks Range Mountains, which compress the coastal plain and foothills tundra to a 20-40 mile wide band between the mountains and the sea. By contrast, the mountains further west rise far away from the Arctic Ocean coast, creating broad coastal tundra ranging 100-200 miles north to south in the Prudhoe Bay and NPR-A areas.

Oil and gas exploration has been proposed for this northern coastal plain, referred to by the USGS as Area 1002. Although the 1002 Area is only 10% of the total Refuge acreage, it includes most of ANWR's coastal plain and arctic foothills ecological zones. It is these areas that are most in need of being preserved. Newer petroleum exploration technologies that are in use on the North Slope oil fields include many improvements over earlier technologies, including directional drilling that allows for multiple well heads on smaller drill pads; the re-injection of drilling wastes into the ground, which replaces surface reserve pits; better delineation of oil reserves using 3-dimensional seismic surveys, which has reduced the number of dry holes; and use of temporary ice pads and ice roads for conducting exploratory drilling and construction in the winter. Such technologies greatly reduce the impact of oil and gas exploration.

Although these technological advances have done much to reduce the harmful environmental effects of oil and gas development, it remains a highly intrusive process. The actual physical "footprint" of the oil fields themselves is over 10,000 acres and the industrial complex of roads and facilities that supports it covers nearly 800 square miles which runs over 100 miles east to west on the North Slope. The facilities proposed for development of ANWR will expand this even further and involve large amounts of water, extensive new pipelines over fragile areas, and likely many more paved roads, as there is not enough water in the region to support the required amount of ice roads. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Geological Service's 1998 ANWR Report (see the link to this report below), the region will only produce about 2.5 to 4 percent of U.S. oil needs over the next 30 years at high confidence levels (greater than 80 percent) and current prices—an amount that can be more than compensated for by reasonable conservation measures.


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