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May 2006
Alaska's North Slope
Produced by National Geographic Magazine Maps         
  The Selling of Alaska
Some see Alaska's North Slope as a lush ecosystem worth protecting. Others see it as a storehouse of oil—up to 48 billion barrels—waiting to be tapped. The latter view is gaining ground. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been at the center of the debate, but development is spreading rapidly westward. Shaded blocks on this map represent tracts of land or ocean that are leased for oil and gas exploration; open blocks show tracts that are available for leasing. Both the federal government and the state can issue leases, which range in size from a few hundred acres to nearly 15,000 (6,071 hectares). Leases have jumped dramatically over the past five years: Since 2001 in the NPRA alone, energy companies have paid 120 million dollars to lease nearly two million acres (809,400 hectares). If sites prove promising, oil and gas wells (red dots) may spill farther across the slope—and the lost wilderness may be remembered as the cost of doing business.

Migration Hub
Millions of birds—more than 125 species—migrate back to the North Slope from wintering grounds thousands of miles away.

Chukchi Sea Planning Area
The federal government plans to open up this remote 34-million-acre (14-million-hectare) area to leasing within the next few years.

Almost 700,000 caribou use the coastal plain and the western uplands for calving, traveling hundreds of miles each spring from wintering grounds in Canada and the U.S.

Pintails, kind eiders, black brant, peregrines, gyrfalcons, and many other species rely on North Slope wetlands and lagoons for food, water, and shelter during nesting and migration seasons.

Some 10,000 bowhead, and more than 30,000 beluga whales migrate along the North Slope coast.

National Petroleum Reserve—Alaska
The NPRA consists of 23 million acres (nine million hectares) of federal land split into the Northwest, Northeast, and South Planning Areas. The southern section is the only one off-limits to leasing pending the completion of an environmental impact statement.

Teshekpuk Lake
Last January the Bureau of Land Management opened this wildlife-rich area to oil and gas leasing.

Barrow Arch
This geological formation along the coastline traps a wealth of oil—almost every oil discovery on the slope has been within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of it.

Alpine Field
This newest field, which began operation in 2000, is spreading into the Colville River Delta, a breeding ground for waterfowl and shorebirds.

State and Native Lands
Most oil production on the North Slope occurs here between ANWR and NPRA.

Beaufort Sea Planning Area
The federal government has opened up 9.1 million acres (four million hectares) for leasing.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline System
Oil moves from Prudhoe Bay south through the 500-mile (800-kilometer) pipeline to Valdez.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
With some 19 million acres (eight million hectares), ANWR is believed to be the most biologically diverse park or refuge in the Arctic. Only the 1002 area is being considered for oil exploration.

1002 Area
This is the only significant area of the coastal plain closed for development, but the debate in Congress to open it isn't over. A test well, KIC-1, was drilled here on native land in the mid-eighties.

State Offshore Area
State waters extend three nautical miles (five kilometers) from the coast.

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