In December 2017 the Department of the Interior, then under the leadership of former Navy Seal and self-styled cowboy Ryan Zinke, issued a press release extolling the resource potential of Alaska’s North Slope. It was characteristically Trumpian: the word HUGE, to describe the increase in recoverable oil and gas in a new USGS study, was spelled in all caps. “These assessments show that the North Slope will remain an important energy hub for decades to come,” the department declared.
Zinke had already made it clear that Alaska was central to the administration’s “energy dominance” agenda. One of his first trips as Interior Secretary was to Denali and then Anchorage where he delivered a speech at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference, assuring industry executives that the path to energy dominance would run through the great state of Alaska and the North Slope in particular. He formed a fast friendship with Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski. Her former campaign chairman, Steve Wackowski, a brash 39-year-old with no experience in public lands management, was appointed senior advisor for Alaska Affairs. Former staffers for Rep. Don Young and Senator Dan Sullivan would also get plum positions at DOI. David Bernhardt, who had once defended the state of Alaska against the FWS in an effort to open the refuge to seismic exploration, would eventually take over as Secretary.