Alaska’s Last Oil

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The world is addicted to oil. But now, the easy pockets of oil are gone and the race is on to find new sources.

Nowhere is the battle more intense than in Alaska, source of nearly 15% of America’s domestic production, and home to the nation’s largest wildlife preserve, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), where companies are pushing to drill.

ANWR, located in the northeastern corner of Alaska, is home to more than 250 species of animals and is one of the last untouched wildernesses on Earth. But the pristine refuge not only boasts an eco-system that has existed for millions of years. It holds another treasure: oil.

Some say this treasure makes the land too valuable to leave untouched. Plans to explore here have existed for many years, but given what’s happening to oil production elsewhere, some say it might soon be necessary to drill in paradise.

Video: “Reaching Out for Oil”

Only 60 miles west of ANWR sits Prudhoe Bay, site of the largest oil field in North America. Measuring nearly the size of Rhode Island, Prudhoe is one of the largest industrial complexes on the planet. Since production started here in 1977, about 10 billion barrels of oil have been recovered, providing as much as 20% of America’s total energy supply.

Now the field is declining. And fast. Even using new technologies to extract the oil, Prudhoe Bay produces 75% less oil than it did during its peak in 1987. Declining supplies in places like this, combined with America’s ravenous appetite for oil, are compelling us to go farther than ever before to find new sources — just one of which could be the currently-protected ANWR.

As pressure mounts to drill, it’s uncertain how much longer ANWR will remain off-limits.