After leaving Trump administration, Balash will work for oil company that’s developing an Alaska project

Joe Balash, who served as assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the U.S. Interior Department in the Trump administration, sits at a meeting on oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge earlier this summer in Arctic Village, whose indigenous Gwich’in residents are fighting the development. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Joe Balash, the high-level Alaskan appointee at the U.S. Department of the Interior who pushed to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil leasing, is taking a job with an oil company seeking to develop a major project in Alaska.

Balash, an assistant secretary at the department who oversaw the Bureau of Land Management, left his job last week, without saying if he’d taken a new job elsewhere. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Balash has accepted a position with Oil Search, a Papua New Guinea-based company that first expanded into Alaska in 2017.

Before his federal job, Balash — who went to high school in North Pole and still has family in Alaska — worked as a special assistant to Sarah Palin when she was Alaska’s governor, then later 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, which 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 secure a federal wetlands permit from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Balash declined to comment Wednesday when contacted by Alaska’s Energy Desk, but he confirmed to the Post late Tuesday that he would begin working for Oil Search. He said he would abide by a Trump administration ethics pledge that, for five years, blocks high-level appointees from lobbying the agency where they worked — though he added that he would supervise Oil Search employees who do work with the Interior Department.

Environmental organizations quickly blasted Balash for accepting a job in the oil industry.

“Throughout his time at Interior, Joe Balash spearheaded efforts to suppress science, ignore indigenous rights and sell off the Arctic Refuge for drilling at all costs,” the Sierra Club’s Lena Moffitt said in a statement. “Now, he’s shamelessly seeking to profit from this destruction while the American people and our public lands pay the price.”

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