The Interior Department won’t rush its regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal land because if drilling there isn’t done safely, it “could create an Achilles heel for natural gas” and hinder production across the U.S., says Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Speaking to the National Press Club, April 24, Salazar said the new rules would be issued “soon,” and would undergird the Obama administration’s commitment to a “robust natural gas agenda.”

But, he stressed, the public will accept use of fracking by the oil and gas industry only if it’s done “safely and responsibly.”

Hydraulic fracturing used in the last half-dozen years has produced a glut of natural gas that has driven the price to eight-year lows, and promises continuing ample supply for decades. The technology has also unlocked oil from shale in North Dakota and Texas.

Addressing State and Federal Regulation Overlap

The states individually set safety standards for drilling, so there’s considerable variation across the country in how hydrofracking is regulated, but rising public concern about fracking, with fears of drinking water contamination, has states tightening oversight.

State regulators, however, cannot oversee drilling on federal lands.

The Interior Department controls some 700 million acres of federal mineral lands, much of it in the Western U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey said BLM has received expressions of interest in drilling both in traditional fossil-rich areas of the Rocky Mountain states and on federal holdings in the East, near areas where fracking on private lands has been productive.

Salazar said Interior’s regulations will be “common sense rules” that include at least three measures already taken by some states.

First, he said Interior will require full disclosure of fracking fluids, a measure now in place in nine states.

Second, Salazar said, the rules will set standards for well bore integrity, to ensure well casings are properly cemented and prevent leaks into the drinking water aquifers they pass through.

Third, he said, the rules will require proper management of flowback water. Virtually all confirmed instances of water pollution from fracked wells on private lands have stemmed from mismanagement of contaminated water flowing back up the well bore.

Industry Adjusting to Tighter Regulations

Some production companies are managing flowback by recycling, which has the added benefit of reducing the fresh water needed for other fracks. With drill bores extending miles underground, a single well can need up to 5 million gallons for a frack.

Salazar said Interior’s rules will be similar to provisions in states like Colorado and Wyoming. He noted that Colorado has Democratic governor and Wyoming, a Republican one, so the drilling safety standards aren’t partisan.

The Environmental Protection Agency last week issued a new rule requiring fracked wells to use “green completions,” capturing air pollution. The rule is being phased in to give the industry time to obtain needed equipment. That EPA rule would apply on federal lands.

Industry analysts said the rules are believed to be under White House review, which usually means they are close to being released.