The Challenge: (1) develop a method of extracting hydrocarbon resources from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that is as environmentally sensitive as possible and (2) then to evaluate whether the economic benefit of the oil extracted would be worth the social cost of the environmental damage such extraction would inflict.
Background: When the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1960, it was established to protect a precious and vulnerable region and the wildlife it harbored and sustained. Less than a decade later the largest domestic oil discovery in history occurred next door in Prudhoe Bay and it became increasingly clear that huge oil potential resided underneath the coastal plain of ANWR. This coincidence of having both a pristine habitat and hydrocarbon wealth set off one of the greater economy versus environment debates in recent times. The ensuing argument has garnered national attention as the issue was rapidly politicized. And somehow, amongst all the clatter, the science behind the issue seems to have been lost.