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Balash takes job with oil company that seeks big Alaska project

Sep 10, 2019

Joe Balash, Gov. Sean Parnell’s appointee as commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, listens as members of the Senate Resources Committee discuss his qualifications during his confirmation hearing, Feb. 28, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

A high-level Alaskan appointee in the Trump administration who pushed to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil leasing -- is taking a job with an oil company that seeks to develop a major project in Alaska.

Joe Balash is an assistant secretary at the Interior Department who oversaw the Bureau of Land Management. He left his job without saying whether he had taken a new job elsewhere

The Washington Post reported Balash has accepted a position with Oil Search, a Papua New Guinea-based company that first expanded into Alaska in 2017.

Balash went to high school in North Pole and still has family in Alaska. Before his Trump administration job, he worked as a special assistant to Sarah Palin when she was Alaska’s governor, then served as the state’s natural resources commissioner. 

At the Interior Department, he’s been an advocate for the Trump administration’s strategy of “energy dominance,” pushing to open more federal lands to drilling in the Arctic Refuge and in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska.

Oil Search is advancing a project on the North Slope called the Pikka development. It could ultimately produce as many as 120,000 barrels of oil a day, boosting the total amount of oil extracted in the state by about one-fourth.

The project is 100 miles west of the Arctic Refuge on state- and privately-owned land, not federal land. Though the company had to get a federal wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Balash declined to comment when contacted by Alaska’s Energy Desk. But he confirmed to the Post that he would begin working for Oil Search. 

He says he will abide by a Trump administration ethics pledge that, for five years, blocks high-level appointees from lobbying the agency where they worked. But he added that he will supervise Oil Search employees who do work with the Interior Department.

Environmental organizations quickly blasted Balash for accepting a job in the oil industry, saying he's trying to profit from his government work.