Joel K. Bourne
National Geographic
September 11, 2012

Along the Chukchi Sea near Wainright, Alaska, scientists working for Shell fanned out in summer 2011 in preparation for the company’s offshore drilling, which began this weekend. One archaeologist uses a GPS device to record the precise location of a Native American sod house on the shore.

On August 27, after a scorching summer of record-breaking drought and heat across the U.S., scientists reported that summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean had shrunk to its lowest extent in recorded history—worrisome news to those concerned about polar bears or eroding Inupiat villages or other impacts of climate change.

On the same day, however, a high-powered group of politicians, oil industry executives, shipping magnates, and investors gathered to discuss how best to exploit their good fortune.

“I will be one of those persons most cheering for an endless summer in Alaska,” Peter E. Slaiby, vice president of Shell* Alaska, told luminaries at the Arctic Imperative Summit at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, August 25-27. Slaiby’s company has thus far spent $4.5 billion over the past seven years in a much-delayed effort to explore for oil and gas in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in Arctic Alaska.

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