Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) may be at the center of current debate in states that are experiencing a shale gas boom, but it will remain an important part of the industry and can be performed safely, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

"I think hydraulic fracking is very much a necessary part of the future of natural gas because without this new technology the amount of natural gas that we have available here in the country is a very diminished amount," Salazar said during a meeting with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington, DC, Wednesday. "I think hydraulic fracking can be done in a safe way, in an environmentally responsible way, and in a way that doesn't create all the concerns that it's creating across the country right now."

Last year Salazar signaled that Interior was weighing how it would move forward with a policy requiring producers to disclose the fluids associated with fracking on public lands (see Shale Daily, Dec. 1, 2010). Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees 250 million acres, which contain 11% of the nation's natural gas supply. Approximately 90% of the wells currently drilled on public lands are stimulated by the fracking technique, according to BLM. On Wednesday Salazar said he believes companies operating on public lands should be required to disclose the contents of their fracking fluids.

"My own view is that there ought to be disclosure with some safeguards concerning proprietary information. We are in the process of working on a rule, and I don't know when we will have that rule ready to go, but I believe it is a necessary part of creating a good opportunity for the future of natural gas," he said.

While "there may have been places where [fracking] has in fact contaminated the domestic water supply," most oil and gas wells use fracking "and most of them aren't impacting our water supply -- so there's a way to do it safely," Salazar said.

Salazar's remarks came one day after a geophysics professor who has studied fracking for more than 40 years told a Senate committee the practice does not negatively impact drinking water or the environment (see Shale Daily, Oct. 5).

Despite voluntary disclosure by several individual companies and the efforts of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission through their Hydraulic Fracturing Chemical Disclosure Registry and Education website (www.hydraulicfracturingdisclosure.org), Salazar and others continue to recommend that companies be required to disclose the chemical contents of fracking fluids (see Shale Daily, Aug. 12).

The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee recently said it "shares the prevailing view that the risk of fracturing fluid leakage into drinking water sources through fractures made in deep shale reservoirs is remote" but it "nevertheless believes there is no economic or technical reason to prevent public disclosure of all chemicals in fracturing fluids, with an exception for genuinely proprietary information."

More than 100 groups representing U.S. industry last month petitioned to keep the federal government from erecting barriers to fracking (see Shale Daily, Sept. 22). State governments, the on-the-ground regulators of oil and gas drilling, are working with industry to ensure that adequate environmental and safety measures are employed, they said.