Top Interior Official Who Pushed To Expand Drilling In Alaska To Join Oil Company There

In Environment On

Last summer, Scott Pruitt left his job heading the Environmental Protection Agency and within a few months had started consulting for coal magnate Joseph W. Craft III. Three weeks after leaving the Interior Department, energy counselor Vincent DeVito joined Cox Oil Offshore, which operates in the Gulf of Mexico, as its executive vice president and general counsel. Now, Joe Balash — who oversaw oil and gas drilling on federal lands before resigning from Interior on Friday — is joining a foreign oil company that is expanding operations on Alaska’s North Slope.

Balash, who had served as the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management for nearly two years, confirmed in a phone interview Tuesday night that he will begin working for the Papua New Guinea-based Oil Search, which is developing one of Alaska’s largest oil prospects in years.

The company is drilling on state lands that lie nearby — but not inside — two federal reserves where the Trump administration is pushing to increase oil and gas development: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. During his time at Interior, Balash oversaw the department’s work to hold lease sales on the coastal plain of the 19.3 million-acre refuge and to expand drilling on the 22.8 million-acre reserve to the west of the refuge. Both sites are home to large numbers of migratory birds as well as caribou, polar bears and other wildlife.

Balash declined to disclose his specific role and said that while he would oversee employees who would work with the federal government on energy policy, he would abide by the Trump ethics pledge barring appointees from lobbying their former agencies for five years.

“I’ll supervise those who do,” he said, referring to Oil Search staffers with business before the federal government, “but I have a ton of restrictions dealing with the Department of Interior. Most of Oil Search’s properties are state lands. There isn’t really the federal nexus.”

Oil Search has been expanding aggressively in Alaska, where it says it has acquired more than 700 million barrels of crude reserves. In May, the company received the go-ahead from the Army Corps of Engineers, and it plans to ramp up production operations this year and over the winter.

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