Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told attorneys general from across the West that they are on the front lines of promoting energy independence for the U.S. while protecting the environment and natural resources in their states.
Salazar, also a former Colorado attorney general, was the keynote speaker at a three-day conference at The Broadmoor hotel for the Conference of Western Attorneys General.
He said Tuesday there is a clash between booming oil and gas production in the United States that will end foreign energy dependence and environmental concerns that will preserve our natural resources.
"We are in a place that we have never been before," Salazar said. "The opportunity is there. We have defied the critics of the past who have said we will never be able to get there."
But he said that boom, driven by horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing and deep water exploration, comes into direct conflict with issues such as the Endangered Species Act, local control and groundwater contamination.
The solution, he said, is the rule of law, and attorneys general across the nation enforcing state laws when it comes to oil and gas exploration.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, hosting the conference in his hometown, is entrenched with the conflict already, suing Colorado cities that are trying to ban or limit hydraulic fracturing in their backyards.
Suthers said state law and court rulings have made it clear that minerals are under the purview of state law, not local jurisdictions.
"That's clearly the law right now," Suthers said. "That could change and I fully anticipated that last legislative session."
But legislation to give local jurisdictions more authority over the oil and gas exploration occurring in city and county limits was never introduced, in part out of the threat of a veto from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is considered to be oil-and-gas friendly.
Suthers is party to lawsuits against Longmont, where the city council voted to ban fracking in neighborhoods, and Loveland, where voters approved a fracking ban.
Salazar said such legal conflicts are pervasive across the country.
"At the end of the day, fracking is here to stay," Salazar said after he spoke to a room full of lawmakers. "It is essential for the energy security of the U.S., but it has to be driven in the right way."
Salazar said that three things are needed: ensuring full disclosure of chemicals that are being injected into the ground as part of the fracking process, monitoring the contaminants in the waste water produced in that process and ensuring well integrity so spills don't contaminate groundwater.
He said the responsible companies in the oil and gas industry are all in favor of that disclosure and quality control.
But Salazar said if every state, county, city and town has a different set of regulations and requires different standards; it will hinder oil and gas exploration and eventually, the country's energy independence.
Contact Megan Schrader