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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on the fracking debate

David Brancaccio May 1, 2012

David Brancaccio: Starting today, a government-private partnership known as Brand USA is going to start spending about $12 million to entice British, Canadian, and Japanese tourists to visit here instead of somewhere else. Beyond that, the U.S. Depart of the Interior , along with Commerce, and Homeland Security are working on ways to make it easier for tourists from farther-off places such as Brazil or China to get visas so they can spend money in the U.S.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is the man with some tourist-attracting pieces of real estate in his portfolio, including the Grand Canyon. He also has some underground natural gas and oil that’s of interest to more than just tourists. Secretary Salazar, good morning.

Ken Salazar: Good morning, David. How are you?

Brancaccio: Doing very well, thank you. Give me a sense of what you’re trying to do with homeland security, on making it, what, a little bit easier for people from other countries to pay us a visit?

Salazar: We believe that we can create another two to three million jobs here in the United States through our efforts on tourism and bringing people who have money, who want to spend it here in places that have to be discovered by the rest of the world. We have a wonderful country, and I’m proud to be the secretary that’s custodial over much of it.

Brancaccio: Your department also has a little troika going now. It’s a new thing with the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. The headline is about unconventional research into sources of natural gas and oil. I mean, that’s got to be hydraulic fracturing and things like that, fracking.

Salazar: Yes. We have a very abundant natural gas supply in the country, so it’s a good way to get us to greater energy independence and also to do it in an environmentally sound way. But also, as I’ve said to industry and others around the country, if we don’t do certain things with hydraulic fracturing, there’s an Achille’s heel there, because if people don’t know what’s being injected, for example, into the underground, they’re going to rebel against it. So we believe there ought to be disclosure of what companies are using for hydraulic fracturing.

Brancaccio: Some states — I think like Wyoming comes to mind — would like to draft their own regulations regarding these techniques. Do you think that’s a good idea or should it be more a federal issue?

Salazar: I think the steps that Wyoming, Colorado and a few other states have taken have been very good steps. At the same time, I have to make sure that it’s being done in the right way. We’re in the process of getting to the point where hopefully very soon we’ll have the final rules.

Brancaccio: How does it work? I remember, I think it was the energy law that passed back in 2006, exempted some of this fracking from federal oversight. It sounds like this is now moving toward a little more oversight on the part of the feds.

Salazar: What’s happened in the last five years is technologies have significantly increased our projections on the amount of natural gas that’s available in places like in the Bakken formation, which is mostly North Dakota, a little bit of it goes into Montana — but there’s a huge amount of oil. In fact, there are some people who are saying it’s as much oil as Saudi Arabia, and we believe it can be a source for United States energy. But we know also that it can be done in a manner that is safe and responsible, so the rules that will be put in place will be common sense kinds of rules.

Brancaccio: Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Thank you very much.

Salazar: Thank you very much David, have a great day.

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