The Interior Department is “very close” to releasing rules governing the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of oil and natural gas wells located on public lands, Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday in her first appearance before Congress.

It’s a matter of “weeks, not months,” she told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. She was there to defend the department’s $10.9 billion budget request for fiscal 2014.

“We need your help in streamlining [the] regulatory burden,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), which is home to the Bakken Shale. He urged her to work with the states on fracking, saying that this can be a “win-win in a big way.” Having fracked a well or two herself, Jewell acknowledged that it can be done safely.

The rules have undergone “sufficient change,” and will be followed by public comment, Jewell said during a media call, The Hill reported.

Interior decided in late January to set aside its original federal fracking proposal and rewrite a new one that would be more responsive to the concerns of the energy industry, environmentalists and the public. Industry welcomed the move by Interior and said it hopes that the administration would recognize the strong oversight provided by existing state regulations of fracking on public lands.

Oil and gas companies and Republicans generally oppose federal regulation of fracking, while Democrats and environmentalists support it, saying that it is a threat to water and air quality (see Shale Daily, Sept. 12, 2012).

In addition to overlapping with state regulation of fracking, the Western Energy Alliance estimates that federal fracking regulations would add more than $250,000 to the cost of each new well, for an aggregate annual cost of $1.5 billion.

Last year, Interior issued a draft fracking rule that would require producers to disclose chemicals used during fracking operations on public and Native lands, but only after the operations have been completed (see Shale Daily, May 7, 2012).

Hoeven also thanked Jewell, who has only been on the job for four weeks, for the new study by the United States Geological Survey resource assessment of the Bakken Shale and Three Forks formation in the Williston Basin in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. It found that the Bakken Shale and Three Forks formation contain a combined estimated 7.4 billion bbl of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil, 6.7 Tcf of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas and 530 million bbl of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas liquids (NGL), according to the assessment released last Tuesday.

Those numbers are up significantly compared with a 2008 USGS assessment of the Bakken — twice as much oil and three times as much natural gas and NGLs as the previous study — because of the inclusion of the Three Forks formation in the new assessment. The Three Forks formation lies below the Bakken Shale (see Shale Daily, May 1).

“It’s going to have a real impact in terms of jobs, energy,” Hoeven said.