SOURCE: National Geographic

DATE: November 20, 2018

SNIP: Polar Bears are the largest land carnivores on Earth. Ten feet long from nose to tail, weighing up to 1,300 pounds, they have cobraesque reflexes, ten scythes for claws, and can sprint on ice nearly as fast as Usain Bolt on a springy track. In their dark, snowy realm, they are the lords of Arctic wildlife.

Yet they aren’t much of a match for an Inova AHV-IV Commander—a 90,000-pound, 500-horsepower tracked “thumper truck” that may be crawling over their favorite denning habitat in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as early as December.

If the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approves a permit application submitted by SAExploration last July, two dozen of the massive, 30-foot-long vehicles could begin slowly crisscrossing the refuge’s coastal plain this winter, sending powerful, low-frequency vibrations into the ground and recording the reflections off deep layers of rock—all in the hope of finding black gold. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates the area may contain more than 10 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

The thumper trucks will be accompanied by more than 150 support vehicles, including crew quarters for 300, fuel tanks, snow cats, tractors, bulldozers—an army of heavy equipment traversing the fragile tundra. The seismic prospecting has to happen in winter, when the tundra is frozen, so the vehicles won’t sink into the mire.

The trouble is, winter is when female polar bears come ashore to dig dens in deep snow drifts and give birth to their cubs.