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Walls of ice 8 feet tall surrounded us for a mile long section early on the river. This was, in part, what I came to the Arctic for. To experience the unique nuances of the circumpolar region: ice lined rivers, mountains carpeted in tundra, migrating caribou, foraging bears, wolves on the hunt, and yes, even to see if the mosquitoes were as bad as everyone predicted. The Arctic gets regular play in the news and although I knew I was already in favor of protecting this fragile landscape from any industrial intrusion, I wanted to see and experience it for myself.
The seven of us were on the Kongakut River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – 8.9 million acres established 50 years ago. In 1980 Jimmy Carter and other enthusiasts expanded it to today’s 19-million acres. The controversy between whether or not to allow oil extraction operations here is no secret. The pro drilling argue getting off foreign oil dependencies and an economic gain for the local economy. The con argue a disruption of fragile eco systems and that the surveyed estimate of how much oil could be recovered was but a mere drop in the bucket of US thirst for oil.