Salazar says fracking rules coming in ‘a few weeks’

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday his department would formally unveil its highly anticipated rules for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands in “a few weeks.”

The Interior Department has worked on a trio of rules that would require companies operating on federal lands to disclose the chemicals in their fracturing fluids (with a trade-secret exemption), impose standards meant to ensure wells can withstand fracturing and require companies to explain how they plan to dispose of flowback water.

“If we are going to be successful, the public needs to have confidence that fracking operations are being conducted safely, and that drinking water supplies are protected,” Salazar said.

His remarks came at the City Club of Cleveland, where Salazar gave a much broader discussion of President Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy-policy vision that he outlined in his State of the Union address. Obama called for more production of oil and natural gas with safeguards to protect the environment while also saying the nation needed to double down on renewable energy.

A leaked draft of the fracturing rules came under fire from oil-and-gas groups, which called the proposals redundant with what many states and industry itself are already doing and saying they would further impede oil-and-gas development on federal lands.

Industry has tapped vast new pockets of natural gas in shale formations thanks to innovations in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, in which mixtures of water, sand and chemicals are injected underground at high pressures to break up rock and free up trapped oil and gas. Environmentalists contend fracturing can contaminate drinking water supplies, while industry insists the practice is safe.

Environmental advocates note that many states still don’t have disclosure requirements and some states’ requirements aren’t as stringent as what Interior plans to propose.

Salazar said fracturing is already being done safely “in most cases.” But he defended the rules, saying not moving forward with them could undermine public confidence in unconventional natural-gas production enough to serve as its “Achilles heel.” He also said the American people have a right to have their public lands used in a “responsible way.”

“To me those rules are common sense,” he said. He rejected the notion that the rules would “kill jobs,” saying that many industries such as farming depend on having soil, land and water that aren’t polluted.

Interior would have to take public comment on the rules once they’re proposed.