Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Friday that fracking for natural gas and oil on public lands can be done safely, but it needs to be done in a way that protects the environment.
He met with The Durango Herald’s Editorial Board after taking part in a ceremony declaring Chimney Rock a national monument. He will visit the new visitor’s center at Mesa Verde National Park today before heading to Towaoc and Ignacio.
In addition to energy production, Salazar discussed U.S. tourism and Native American education.
“We are very proud of the work that we’ve been able to do on energy over the last four years,” said Salazar, who served as a Colorado U.S. senator from 2005 to 2009 before being appointed to President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.
U.S. oil imports have decreased from 60 percent to 45 percent during the last four years, he said – the lowest in two decades. The move toward energy independence is a step toward national and economic security, he said.
The United States last year imported a million barrels fewer every day than it did the prior year, he said.
At the same time, renewable-energy production doubled within the last four years, he said. It should be noted, however, that renewable energy makes up only about 4 percent of the country’s total electrical production.
Salazar credited the Obama administration with overseeing the increase in domestic natural-gas and oil production. Domestic production is up 13 percent on public lands during the last 3˝ years, he said.
About a third of the production comes from the Gulf of Mexico.
Drilling in the Gulf Coast and the Arctic is being done with the “highest standards of safety and environmental protection in the United States,” he said.
Since the BP oil spill in the Gulf in April 2010, there has been a complete overhaul of how gas and oil is explored and developed in the oceans of America.
“We’ve taken the lessons that we’ve learned, and we’ve been sharing them with the rest of the world,” he said.
“The standards that we’re setting in the United States ... are now being followed around the world,” he added.
As secretary of the interior, Salazar oversees the administration of programs relating to Native Americans. When asked about retention rates and graduation rates of Native American college students, Salazar acknowledged work needs to be done.
“It is one of the areas that I worry about the most,” he said. “We need to do a much better job in tribal schools and contract schools.”
The Department of Education needs to create better relationships with Native American tribes to help address some of the issues, he said, and the federal government is helping to improve construction of Native American schools.
“We’ve had significant success there,” he said. “We’re not at 100 percent. There’s a lot more that obviously needs to be done.”
Outdoor recreation and preservation, such as that done Friday at Chimney Rock, help promote tourism, create jobs and boost local economies across America, Salazar said.
The United States is advertising its iconic places and cultures around the world, and that has resulted in a “huge increase in the number of international visitors coming to the U.S.”
“These icons are part of luring people to come and spend their tourist dollars here,” Salazar said.