Betting Big

$2.1 billion for drilling rights

As seven inches of snow fell gently in downtown Anchorage last week, 1,000 spectators and representatives of two dozen oil companies crowded into the convention area in the International Banquet House. They were there to hear bids announced for federal lease sales in the Beaufort Sea, which perhaps contains some of the richest untapped deposits of oil and gas in the U.S. The fields are believed to hold as much as 2.3 billion bbl. of oil and 1.8 trillion cu. ft. of natural gas.

As the bids were opened one by one, Esther Wunnicke, 60, of the...

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