Colorado College's 2012 State of the Rockies conference featured Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Director of the USGS Dr. Marcia McNutt, both CC alumni, speaking on energy, water, and conservation issues in the West. Prior to their presentations, the two fielded questions from the press about water and energy issues.
A couple weeks ago in North Dakota you said you hoped fracking wouldn't become the "Achilles' Heel" of the oil and gas industry. Could you expound on that?
Secretary Salazar: "There are three complements of the rule we have under consideration to the [fracking regulation] rule we hope to be able to move forward with. First, part of the rule will be disclosure. The second will be well-bore integrity, and the third will be the monitoring of water that's used in hydraulic fracking. Why are those important to us? We oversee about 700 million acres of American lands, and most people want to know what's being injected underground. They want to know what the consequences are of the injections taking place. And I think if we don't address those issues upfront, there's going to be a reaction to what the oil and gas industry is doing that potentially could shut down a lot of what is going on now with oil and gas development because people are afraid of what they do not know. That's why most of the industry groups, when I talk to them one on one with their CEOs, they tell me they're supportive of the effort that we're taking. That's why states like Wyoming and Texas have moved forward on disclosure requirements. From my point of view they're common sense rules that ought to be followed and I think at the end of the day, if we don't do it, the huge promise we now have for natural gas in this country -- we have enough supply for 100 years -- that the industry could basically stumble over the fact that they're not disclosing to the world what they're injecting underground... Good knowledge and good science will keep us from making mistakes."
Dr. Marcia McNutt: "Our studies are basically looking at the scientific aspects and, just as the secretary says, how can we assure the American people that this can be done safely and that they need not worry about things like induced seismicity [man-made earthquakes] and the quality of water, and quantity of water -- this is important here in the West. It's not such a big issue back East but it is here in the West where every drop of water counts. So for example, the plowback waters, rather than just injecting them into the ground and forgetting about them, [can the industry] use those waters again in the next fracking, rather than just dispose of them? And using brackish waters for the fracking rather than fresh water."
As we sit here, the snowpack in the Colorado River Basin is about half of normal. Do you see this as an anomaly or do we have to prepare for more winters like this here in the Colorado Basin?
McNutt: [Several centuries of tree records indicate] that the early part of the 20th century was the best that it ever had been and that we can expect drought periods of 28 years or more in length. The longest drought period we've really had [so far] was a 14 year period of low rainfall. So we can expect to be going back into cyclical patterns of lower rainfall when 28 year droughts become the norm… We haven't seen a drought in historical times as bad as what we have seen in the peleo record... [The] Colorado Plateau as far back as several centuries is mostly much drier than what we as Americans have experienced.
If Mr Obama gets re-elected do you see yourself serving for another 4 years?
Salazar: We have a lot to do, so, my focus is just to do as much as I can. I expect the president will get re-elected, and then sometime after November, since I serve at the president's will, we'll sit down and have a conversation and look at the future. It is the greatest job in the capitol. And it's the most fun job. It is a job that I genuinely enjoy... I get to work on issues that have an impact all over this country.
How do you mediate between economic drivers and those pushing for conservation?
Salazar: "When we look at the economy and conservation, there are those who would have us choose between them and I think that's a false choice. We can do both conservation and energy development and good economics in a way that we have done here in Colorado -- Great Outdoors Colorado is one of the great examples where we've been able to improve the quality of life here, and those are the kinds of things that I think are good for job creation and also good for conservation.