Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar reiterated Tuesday that the Obama administration is continuing to develop draft rules for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in drilling operations, which he said would not slow the natural gas and oil boom.

Critics in the industry have “gotten it wrong” about fracking rules for federal lands, Salazar said. Development can move ahead at the same time “we’re taking measures to protect our environment.” Salazar said he has met with industry and stakeholders about energy security.

“We agreed that we have huge amounts of American-made energy — both oil and natural gas — but what has made much of what we are seeing today possible is all the new technology wrapped around horizontal drilling, as well as the hydraulic fracturing, or ‘well stimulation’ as the industry calls it,” Salazar said. The Interior chief spoke to reporters during a conference call. “Unless we are able to move forward with a program that assures the public that [fracking] can be done safely and responsibly, we can create an Achilles’ heel to the robust energy development we are seeing today.”

The proposed Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rules will be released “soon,” which should “make sure we are supplying the oil and gas development of our country needs, and at the same time make sure that we are also protecting our environment.”

Salazar was also asked about the lack of drilling in North Dakota on federal lands other than Native American land. Of the 208 working rigs in the state, apparently only one is on non-Native American land. “The results speak for themselves,” Salazar said. “The fact is that we have increased the amount of oil and gas being produced off federal lands by 13% during the time President Obama has been in office.”

Federal acreage beyond Native American lands is relatively small in North Dakota, but nevertheless there has been a “very robust program” for energy development in the state, he said. “The Fort Berthold reservation itself is one million acres, and three years ago all those acres were off limits to any kind of development, and yet today you see these one million acres in the energy bulls eye for all this robust development.” Drilling permits in the Bakken Shale alone have increased “by 500% in the past five years alone, and half have been on the American Indian lands.”

Calling North Dakota “ground zero” for U.S. domestic energy production (see Shale Daily, April 4), Salazar said the state has a huge energy future and is “generating impressive energy production for our country and creating thousands of American jobs.”

At the Fort Berthold Native American Reservation, where he met with three affiliated tribes, Salazar said he was at a location that had only a single well operating three years ago, and now there are 245 wells constructed and 112 more permitted. “There has been a virtual energy revolution here; it is incredible to me to see how much progress has been made here.”