Pebbled: The secret history of ANWR and the human hand that shaped it



(Editor’s note: This is the third in a series by Mark Hamilton about the history of the Pebble Project in Alaska.)

Very few Alaskans know about the establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  

During the debates prior to the vote on Statehood, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent his Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton to Alaska, requesting one more set-aside of land to appease opponents who didn’t want to see Alaska developed.  

Mark Hamilton

The group met at Bob Atwood’s home in Anchorage. Elmer Rasmuson was there with Atwood, as well as others.  

Presented with the president’s request, Atwood spread a map of Alaska on the pool table and reached his hand as far North to the sea and as far East as the Canadian border, as far from Anchorage as he could get it.  

They traced his hand on the map, and that became ANWR. The outline was modified to use topographic delineations, by none other than Ted Stevens, who was working for the Secretary in the Interior Department, but you can see today the rough outline of a right hand.  

ANWR was established as the Arctic National Wildlife Range and was 13,900 square miles at statehood. It was expanded in 1980, and renamed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. More acreage was added in the 1980s and the refuge reached its 30,500 square miles.

Read the 1960 historic news release from the Department of the Interior

To the dismay of those who want to portray the region as mountainous, with bubbling streams and huge caribou herds (yes, opponents claim there is a new caribou herd that will disappear), they are stuck with a mosquito- infested swamp.  

Of course, that would not gain as much public opinion, so they pretend the Andes Mountains are at stake, and even use photos of the Andes in some of their propaganda literature.  I understand that one could fool people living in other states (indeed the anti-ANWR campaigns received donations from many in the United States and even some from Europe), but citizens of Alaska?  As many as one in three Alaskans surveyed are opposed to drilling in ANWR. Notice that the politics of that polling, (still 2-1 for), keeps our politicians passionately for responsible oil drilling in ANWR.

But ANWR isn’t the answer to Alaska’s need for an economic future because oil is on the way out. President Joe Biden has voiced that position, and it is a pillar in the environmental activists’ plan for the future.  

If you are confused by the politics of it, take a look at the economics: Wells Fargo recently joined the Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, and Bank of America in a decision to not provide future investment funding for Arctic oil projects. Alaska’s senators worked hard to open ANWR for lease sales. Because of the bankers, the subsequent lease sales were a nothing-burger.

If oil is on the way out, as I believe it to be, (understand this won’t happen this week—we will be pumping oil long after I am gone from this Earth) then mining must flourish.

That is going to depend upon our ability to responsibly develop the resources. Understanding at least some of the rigorous and enormously expensive process is something that all of us here in Alaska need to be spend some time on.  

In subsequent columns, I will present a short course in the very complex path of resource development, as well as thoughts to avoid being “pebbled” again.

The “Pebbled” series at Must Read Alaska is authored by Mark Hamilton. After 31 years of service to this nation, Hamilton retired as a Major General with the U. S. Army in July of 1998. He served for 12 years as President of University of Alaska, and is now President Emeritus. He worked for the Pebble Partnership for three years before retiring.


  1. Without a railroad to the west coast of Alaska, there will never be any real mineral development in Alaska. Transportation limitations have always been the biggest obstacle to resource development in Alaska and a ROAD is NOT EVER going to be the answer. A railroad would be a HUGE boon to the economies in every community west of Fairbanks. The first place it should go is to Ambler district, then over to Red Dog Mine, then down to Kotzebue, then Nome, the that huge gold deposit east of Bethel. Then over to Bethel, because that is a region money goes to disappear and has zero economy beyond government money disposal.

  2. ANILCA Section 1002 (that’s the law folks) sets aside what we know as the “1002 area” for oil development. Video and still photo of caribou calving in the industrial area around Deadhorse not withstanding, the greenies scream at the idea of oil development in their wildlife refuge. The most telling effect the Biden admin has had on our oil industry is the quantity of big trucks carrying equipment and vehicles SOUTH… big oil is abandoning Alaska. I’m not willing to give up my 1-ton pickup for some wimpy electric vehicle that won’t start or run well in the cold. Yeah, I don’t like the air in L.A. either – but draconian solutions that destroy the Alaskan economy aren’t the answer. Being dependent on China for batteries and techie toys (and a lot more…) is not my idea of safety, security, or economic well-being.

  3. This from the guy who managed to run the University of Alaska into the ground and then managed to get a job with the outfit who wants to build the mine he is saying is gonna be just what we need.
    For some reason, I’m not buying it.

  4. Tax large scale mining (million ounces of gold equivalent or more-scaled at lowered resource estitmates) in Alaska, with the same royalty divisions also, the same as oil and the populace will support the development of Pebble.

    It is a >$200 Billion dollar resource. If Northern Dynasty designated $40 billion of that to go to the State of Alaska we would be shovel ready.

    as they say-show us the money

    ANWR-is a different story….cause resource reserves are just guesstimates so not exactly a known like Pebble.

  5. While Hamilton is authoring this series, the Pebble mine was never about him, nor even about Northern Dynasty. Some things are just too big to be about any of the people involved.
    Pebble is just one of many known game changing mineral prospects in Alaska. Prospects that are so huge that core sampling will take decades to find the full extent of just the ones being currently explored.
    The rest of the Brooks Range … The Northway mountain area … more Pebble size deposits a stone’s throw from Pebble … The rest of the West coast … South-East Alaska rare earth discoveries. More close off-shore discoveries.
    There’s at least two known Pebble like, but apparently richer, deposits east of Delta, that miles of exploration still hasn’t found any edge to, in any direction. Rio Tinto has one, and I forget the name of the other company offhand. There are no doubt others shrouded in secrecy and mystery.
    There’s just about nowhere in Alaska that you’re not within fifty miles of a large commercial deposit of one sort or another. That’s not hyperbole, counting the many smaller deposits just a ridge away from each other. Tape an Alaska mineral map to the wall and toss darts at it.
    There’s two ways to go green … mine the minerals needed for creating the green energy infrastructure, or revert to horse and buggy. Both of the Leftists in favor of horse and buggy may leave the class.

  6. Mining in Alaska is hampered more by economics than leftists.

    Take the Tetlin deposit….the copper and silver is essentially worthless even though its on the rd system because of the cost of a mill.

    If the state of Alaska built a series of mills (and charged for their use) across the state instead of burning through our benjamins on studying the gas line, damning the yukon, blowing up point hope, rd to cordova, rd to nome, rd to juneau, rd to umiat, rd to ambler, rail rd to canada, geothermal at mt spur, at pilgrim, shipping water to California, looking for gas/oil where there should be none (copper basin, nenana basin-please look in the minto basin-duh) and so on- we would have a fiscal model. But why blame the democrat and republican folks we keep electing when we can blame a Hungarian Jew?

  7. The ones who really got “pebbled” are the developers of the Pebble Mine. When you hire a guy to promote the mining agenda, please check his true track record first. You may learn that his past record is inapposite to what you expect. I hope the guy who weighed-in on the first article reveals how much money the old UA President pissed away on marginal university programs which have no resource development return on investment. If I recall correctly, this was the President who swelled the UA Administration payroll to the nightmare level that exists today. GregR, any idea?

  8. GregR:
    I’m not buying it either. Someone should look into Mr. Hamilton’s past record at UA and see how much money was appropriated by the Legislature under his watch. Then, compare it, program by program, to it’s departmental targets…….including capital projects. Finally, check how much Hamilton grew his own Administration during his tenure. The record will speak for itself.

  9. In the previous segment, Paul Geivette stated his opinion of Hamilton … and we had words.
    This segment three others pop up, expressing the same opinion of Hamilton, as Geivette had.
    Interestingly, their postings didn’t trigger me. So I pondered it for a while … all day actually.
    I figured it out. Geivette’s posting triggered me because his words were written well enough to be persuasive. In other words, Geivette’s words were potentially effective, and a threat to my position. He had to be countered.
    This latest three? Meh! Meh! and Meh!

  10. Thank you, Josephdj. I studied the actual Hamilton record and did the research on him, with the help of a few retired UAF faculty. The other three just piled-on. It may be personal, I don’t know. Mr. Hamilton can opine here at MRAK, and I hope he does to defend himself. As I stated previously, hypocrites often expose themselves, usually unintended. And when they do, they should be prepared for a jolly good debate.

  11. The Alaskan People should have a say in this. It’s our resources and our future. Instead we’re just handing a billion dollar check to a zillion dollar company and hoping they pay us back. Prudhoe is the economic engine of the state. Red Dog is just a blip on the radar. So why are we following the Red Dog model instead of the Prudhoe model?

    If the minerals that Mr. Hamilton says exist in ANWR really do, then we should evaluate the benefit of extracting them. But the “extract at all cost” mentality is not conservative, and cutting billion dollar checks to private companies for public good is fucking socialist.

  12. Geivette: I flew my flag with Pebble because it meant local jobs for Bristol Bay Natives. Pebble is now simmering on the back burner, not going away, but treading water.
    My passion for Pebble is fading. Actually, my passion for supporting local jobs for the Bristol Bay area is fading.
    The local Natives allowed their chieftains to buy into the binary choice presented by the Environment industry, killing their own futures.
    Now pride won’t let them admit to a mistake, and they will double down on any other possible development … even if all the fish are dead and gone forever.
    I really wasn’t defending Hamilton. I was trying to keep the narrative to his historical account from devolving into a useless extension of the pro or no Pebble arguments. I want to hear his side of the story, along with anyone else’s who has first hand knowledge. My bad for getting triggered.

  13. Josephdj,

    Good on you for your comments throughout this series, you questioned and fought for your viewpoint. When you were proven wrong you learned from it, graciously accepted it, and moved on. We should all learn from the way you’ve conducted yourself here.
    You are a humble, wise, well informed, and opinionated person. It would be nice if there were more like you.

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