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Interior Secretary Salazar cautious about Wyoming town's fracking study findings

December 09, 2011 10:00 pm  • 

CHEYENNE — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Friday that “the jury’s still out” on the validity of a newly released U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study suggesting hydraulic fracturing is polluting groundwater underneath Pavillion.

Salazar also said the Interior Department is still “weeks away” from developing new regulations for natural gas and shale oil production on federal lands, including requiring disclosure of chemicals used in the process commonly called fracking.

The draft EPA findings, released Thursday, said compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath Pavillion, a small community in central Wyoming where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals.

But at a State Capitol press conference with Gov. Matt Mead, Salazar said the EPA’s findings were only preliminary and haven’t yet been reviewed by other scientists.

“We’ll see what happens with this Pavillion study,” Salazar said. “And I think it’s important that the real facts finally get to the table with respect to the peer review and seeing whether there’s something specific with respect to that basin that is different from what we have across the country.”

Salazar said fracking “can be done and is being done safely” in the United States.

However, Salazar said the Interior Department is continuing to work on new regulations for oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

The regulations would focus on requiring companies leasing federal land to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking, information the industry usually considers trade secrets. Earlier this year, Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abbey said that fracking is used in more than 90 percent of wells drilled on public lands.

The rules would also seek to create tougher standards for well bores during the fracking process to protect against leaks and regulate water that flows back to the surface after fracking.

Salazar said he’s worked with the energy industry and environmental groups in crafting the new rules.

“I think the industry would agree with me, as well, that they don’t want to inject the kinds of chemicals in there that are going to have a harmful effect on the environment,” he said.