Interior secretary: 'Fracking' can be safe and responsible (VIDEO)

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – to collect natural gas can be done 'in a safe way.' New federal fracking rules are in the works.

Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C. at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast on Oct. 5, 2011.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department controls mineral rights on 700 million acres in the US, says there is no need to choose between environmental protection and economic development.

“I think it is false choice,” Secretary Salazar said Wednesday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters. “I think we can move forward with the development of our natural resources and at the same time move forward with investments in conservation that make a lot of sense.”

But he also argued strongly for regulations that would require energy companies operating on public land to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."

Fracking is a process in which millions of gallons of water are mixed with sand and chemicals to allow natural gas to flow.

“My own view is that there ought to be disclosure with some safeguards concerning proprietary information,” Salazar said. "So 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.”

Salazar later said the new rules could be ready in roughly a month.

“Hydraulic fracking is very much a necessary part of the future of natural gas,” Salazar said. He added that it “can be done in a safe way, in an environmentally responsible way, and in a way that doesn’t create all of the concerns that it is creating across the country right now."

Some environmental groups have charged that the Obama administration has recently sided with oil companies rather than environmentalists as a result of the weak economy. One example they cite is a recent decision by the Interior Department to move forward with 500 leases off the coast of Alaska that had been challenged by environmentalists.

“We are going to use oil in this country and natural gas,” Salazar said. “Part of what the oil and gas industry ought to be doing is helping lead the effort in terms of the conservation agenda.”

The Obama administration announced Wednesday a plan to speed up the permitting process and construction on seven proposed electric transmission lines in 12 states. The administration says the effort will update the nation’s power grid and create jobs.

The plans were hailed both by the utility companies involved and by the Wilderness Society.

The Associated Press quoted Pam Eaton, the Wilderness Society's deputy vice president for lands saying, “Building responsibly sited power lines to access world class renewable resources can put thousands of Americans to work, bring cost effective clean power to people who need it, and help some of the rural counties in the West hardest hit by the economic downturn.”

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.