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Special series: Arctic Ocean vs. ANWR

Alex DeMarban,Jill Burke,Craig Medred,Loren Holmes,Tony Hopfinger

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, located in northeastern Alaska and the largest such refuge in the United States, has been a battleground for decades between those who want the area to remain "the last great wilderness" and those who want Congress to approve oil exploration on ANWR's sensitive coastal plain.

Between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil could be lurking beneath the coastal plain, but environmental groups have been successful in lobbying Congress and the White House to prevent drilling.

Meantime, though, another pristine area is facing oil development. And environmental groups haven't been as successful in preventing drilling.

Royal Dutch Shell and other oil companies have snatched up billions of dollars in federal leases to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean. And Shell is just beginning to launch its drilling program.

Would hunting for crude in a pristine wilderness on land be safer than from drill ships in the Arctic Ocean?

In the series "Arctic Ocean vs. ANWR," Alaska Dispatch explores this question, one which has largely gone unanswered as the drumbeat increases for drilling off the northern shores of Alaska.

  1. 1 Arctic Ocean vs. ANWR: A tale of two oil fields

    PART I: As Shell prepares to start drilling for oil in the Beaufort Sea, residents of Kaktovik wonder how the nation allowed offshore drilling instead of exploration on land -- the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

  2. 2 Arctic Ocean vs. ANWR: The unthinkable and 'the last great wilderness'

    PART II: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska's North Slope became the global face of the environmental movement, a spiritual last stand against development and for wilderness. But did it backfire?

  3. 3 Arctic Ocean vs. ANWR: A hard-earned quest to drill in the icy abyss

    Part III: Shell Oil has battled its way into the Arctic Ocean over the past eight years, trying to find a co-existence with polar bears, whales and villagers. Here's how the oil giant did it.

  4. 4 Arctic Ocean vs. ANWR: Is wildlife refuge last hope for polar bears?

    Part IV: Campaigns to stop oil drilling on Alaska's Arctic coastal plain have long centered on the Porcupine Caribou Herd. But polar bears - not caribou - may ultimately rely on ANWR as their last refuge in a developed and warming Arctic. 

  5. 5 Photos: Life in the Alaska village of Kaktovik

    Drilling on ANWR's coastal plain wouldn't pose the risk of oily water lapping at the Arctic coastline, or killing whales, seals and walruses that the people of Kaktovik and other villagers depend on.

  6. 6 Photos: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

    On the surface, a rational choice between producing oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge instead of offshore in the Arctic Ocean would appear a no-brainer, as it easier to clean up oil on land than at sea. But ANWR is a special place.

  7. 7 Photos: Polar bears of Kaktovik

    Every year, dozens of polar bears flock to the Arctic Alaska community of Kaktovik, Alaska to feast on the remains of whales from subsistence hunts. With the bears come scientists, tourists and journalists.

  8. 8 Arctic Ocean vs. ANWR: Was there ever a choice for oil drillers?

    Shell started oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean on Sunday, much to the dismay of its critics. If you were asked today to decide between drilling offshore or in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which would you choose?