Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signaled last week that the department is close to completing final regulations for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in drilling operations on public lands. He also touted the Obama administration’s progress on the energy front, while accusing Republicans of pursuing “fairy tale” policies that were out of sync with the needs of the public.

“I can’t give a specific timeline [on the fracking regulations], but we’re pretty close. It will be soon. We’re working on it,” he told NGI following a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The secretary was bombarded with questions from reporters about the timeframe for the fracking regulations.

“The finality of [the] rules has not been achieved. We are in the process of working on the final details of all that,” Salazar said. “We are doing the kind of editing on them to make sure they will be clear.”

Because natural gas “would power the economy of the United States for the next 100 years,” the Obama administration “will move forward and continue to cheer-lead and push for a robust natural gas agenda,” Salazar said.

At the same time, “it’s important that people understand that unless we do it safely and we do it responsibly, we could essentially create the Achilles heel for this great promise of the United States in terms of domestic energy production.” The fracking regulations will be “common sense rules” calling for the disclosure of fracking fluids that are injected into the ground and wellbore integrity measures to prevent contamination of water and monitoring requirements for flowback water.

In his address to reporters and executives, Salazar attacked Republicans for moving forward with “fairy tale” energy policies that are based primarily on campaign and political rhetoric. “There is…this imagined energy world. The world of fairy tales. I would say falseholds that we often see here in Washington, DC. And it’s in [that] imaginary world that we see the continuing growing divide in the energy debate in America,” he said.

“The divide is not among ordinary America. It is between some people [lawmakers] here in Washington, DC. It is a divide between the real energy world that we work on every day and the imagined fairy tale world,” which Salazar said is the invention of campaign and political rhetoric.

“The good news is that the imagined energy world is actually very small. I think you can…find its edge when you walk out of the House of Representatives.” The public is less divided over energy than lawmakers believe, Salazar said. “The reality is that overwhelmingly Americans agree on energy…Americans know what they want,” and support the development of both conventional and renewable energy.

“Americans want to see the continued expansion of offshore drilling, but they also believe that you need to choose the right places for that drilling to take place and that you need to enforce strong safety standards to protect [the] people and the environment,” Salazar said.

He defended the department against criticism that permitting in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) continues to be sluggish. “The Gulf is back…the critics don’t know what the facts are,” he said. Salazar acknowledged, however, that Interior is much more rigorous in processing permits for offshore drilling in the aftermath of the Macondo well blowout that lead to the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig (see NGI, April 26, 2010).

In the Alaska offshore, Salazar said that if Shell Oil is given the green light to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, “it will be done under the most [closely watched] exploration program in the history of the world. [see NGI, April 2]” He said the department would make a decision on Shell’s application to drill in a “timely manner.”

Salazar further said Interior has taken steps to reduce the number of onshore leases that are protested and held up in court. When he became secretary, the office was in “disarray” with half of all oil and gas leases being protested, he said. Since then, Interior has adopted the “smart-from-the-start approach so that fewer leases end up in court.”

He called on Congress to pass three pieces of legislation this year: a bill codifying the reforms that Interior implemented in the wake of the Macondo well blowout; legislation approving an agreement between the United States and Mexico to allow for the development along the two countries’ maritime boundary in the GOM (see NGI, Feb. 27); and a bill implementing policy to promote the development of renewable energy.

“Is it likely Congress will rise to the occasion [on these three bills]? I would hope so,” Salazar said.

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