WASHINGTON, DC -- Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today hosted a forum on hydraulic fracturing, a practice employed to extract oil and natural gas, to examine best practices to ensure that natural gas on public lands is developed in a safe and environmentally sustainable manner.
Joining Secretary Salazar at the forum were Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy & Climate Change; David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior; Marcilynn Burke, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM); and more than a dozen representatives from industry, environmental and public interest groups.
“Today's forum brought together major stakeholders to develop a way forward on natural gas so that the United States can safely and fully realize the benefits of this important energy resource,” Salazar said. “We must work closely with industry, other federal agencies and the public to ensure that this development happens in the right way and in the right places.”
“The Department of the Interior manages vast expanses of public land where this process occurs and we have a leadership role to play in studying the potential impacts, identifying best management practices that should be used in fracturing operations, and implementing commonsense requirements at the permitting stage for public lands,” said Deputy Secretary Hayes.
About 90 percent of wells currently drilled on federally-managed lands are stimulated by hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to increase the volume of oil and gas available for production. After drilling into reservoir rocks, producers inject fluid under high pressure to create or enlarge fractures and then pump a “propping agent” into the well to keep the fractures from closing when operators release the pressure. Fracturing allows hydrocarbons to move more freely into the well bore so that they can be extracted.
The fracturing fluid and propping agent, while primarily comprised of water and sand, respectively, also contain certain chemicals. The number of stimulated wells has steadily increased over the years as technology has improved and types of geologic formations that are now capable of commercial production are less permeable than previous ones. This accelerated use of the process on public and private lands has created intense debate about the potential effects of fracturing on water quality and quantity, particularly regarding the chemical composition of fracturing fluids and the fracturing methods used.
The first panel discussion at the forum focused on the current practice of hydraulic fracturing on BLM land and its potential impacts. It was moderated by Steve Black, Counselor to Secretary Ken Salazar and included the following panelists: Fred Toney, Vice President for U.S. Pressure Pumping, Baker Hughes; Sherri Stuewer, Vice President, Environmental Policy& Planning, Exxon Mobil Corp; Jim Kleckner, Vice President, Operations, Anadarko; Peter Lehner, Executive Director, Natural Resources Defense Council; and Steve Moyer, Vice President, Government Affairs, Trout Unlimited.
The second panel discussed regulatory considerations associated with hydraulic fracturing on BLM land. It was moderated by Deputy Secretary Hayes and included the following panelists: Steve Salzman, Division Chief, Fluid Minerals, BLM; Douglas Duncan, Associate Coordinator, Energy Resources Program, U.S. Geological Survey; Tom Doll, Supervisor, Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission; and Mark Fesmire, Director, New Mexico Oil Conservation District.
Natural gas is an important component of energy development on BLM-managed land. The bureau has responsibility for oil and gas leasing on 245 million surface acres, as well as 700 million acres of federal subsurface mineral estate that it manages.
Natural gas development has significantly increased on federal lands over the last 20 years, resulting in a nearly 60 percent increase in gas production on these lands. In fiscal year 2009, approximately 13 percent of onshore domestically produced natural gas came from public lands, principally in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah and Montana, although most of the gas permits in those states are still non-federal.