For the past 50 years, the oilfields of Alaska's North Slope have been dominated by BP, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips. The big three produce much of the state's oil and gas, but independent drillers are now trying to pioneer the Last Frontier's energy future.
Independent exploration and production companies have historically been willing to take on the country's riskier oil plays, operating with skinny profit margins and applying new technology to try for potentially huge payoffs. In Alaska, recent discoveries could hold the key to stemming a nearly three-decade decline in the state's oil output.
The finds could rank among the largest new onshore assets in the United States, said former Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Myers. Among them are fields that have sat beneath the noses of big oil firms near the prolific Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk fields, Myers told CNBC shortly before he retired this year.