Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) comprises 19,000,000 acres of the north Alaskan coast. It is the largest protected wilderness in the United States and was created by Congress under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.
The Refuge is America's finest example of an intact, naturally functioning community of arctic/subarctic ecosystems. Such a broad spectrum of diverse habitats occurring within a single protected unit is unparalleled in North America, and perhaps in the entire circumpolar north (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/nwr/arctic/issues1.htm).
Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), a federal law, passed in 1980 that set up the current boundaries of ANWR and specifically set aside the 1002 Coastal Plain for potential oil and gas development (http://www.anwr.org/Headlines/Understanding-Alaska%E2%80%99s-Lawsuit-Over-the-1002-area.php). There was a proposal to explore for oil in ANWR, specifically in the 10-02 area.
Although the 1002 Area is only 10% of the total Refuge acreage, it includes most of the Refuge's coastal plain and arctic foothills ecological zones (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/nwr/arctic/issues1.htm).
The Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, which represents 229 Native Alaskan tribes, officially opposes any development in ANWR, which they believe would have serious negative effects on the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd that they partially rely on for food.
The essence of the conflict lies in two facts: One, the possibility that the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge contains one of the best remaining prospects for significant oil discovery in the United States; the other, that the Refuge contains some of the last true remaining 'wilderness' in the country. It also provides a habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd - one of the largest in the world with over 150,000 animals. This herd, whose calving grounds reside on the tundra of the Refuge, is an important means of subsistence for the region's indigenous inhabitants. (http://arcticcircle.uconn.edu/ANWR/anwrpreface.html) Development in the 1002 Area could likely require a large number of small production sites spread across the Refuge landscape, connected by an infrastructure of roads, pipelines, power plants, processing facilities, loading docks, dormitories, airstrips, gravel pits, utility lines and landfills (http://www.fws.gov/alaska/nwr/arctic/issues1.htm).