BISMARCK, N.D. – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a tough crowd of mostly energy company officials Monday that oil, natural gas and coal will be part of the nation’s energy future. North Dakota, he said, has it all.
Salazar, wearing his trademark bolo tie, told the Great Plains Energy Expo in Bismarck that the Obama admnistration is crafting a comprehensive energy policy to replace earlier failed attempts and noted “climate change is a reality we have to address.”
“North Dakota is going to be leading the way to a new energy frontier,” said Salazar, who was invited to Monday’s meeting by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.
North Dakota ranks No. 4 in oil production among the states. It also ranks No. 1 in wind energy potential, Salazar said.
North Dakota “has it all” when it comes to oil, coal, wind and other energy sources, but also has 550 wildlife refuges, more than any other state, said Salazar, who promised to balance energy development and environmental concerns.
Salazar is a Colorado lawyer and rancher who resigned his U.S. Senate seat to take the Interior job. The Democrat said he supports energy development on federal land but “we don’t need to turn over every rock to do it.”
Salazar said his department plans large-scale carbon capture demonstration projects on public lands. He said the U.S. Geological Survey is launching an assessment of the geological storage capacity for carbon dioxide in oil and gas reservoirs and saline formations.
The secretary said he was impressed by his tour of Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Great Plains Synfuels plant near Beulah, in central North Dakota, which has been capturing CO2 since 2000. The carbon dioxide is piped 205 miles to oil fields in southern Saskatchewan, where it’s sold to companies that pump it underground to force oil to the surface.
Salazar said his agency has issued 55 million acres of federal leases since January, including about 70,000 in North Dakota.
The Interior Department has streamlined the permitting process for oil and gas development on the Fort Berthold Reservation, at the heart of the Bakken shale formation in northwestern North Dakota, he said. Companies previously had to deal with a 49-step process involving four agencies.
Salazar said a “one-stop shop” is being created to help expedite permits on reservation land.
“We won’t let bureaucracy stand in the way anymore,” he said. “The Bakken has a chance to have an incredibly positive impact on the reservation.”
Billionaire oilman Harold Hamm told the group that the U.S. Geological Survey’s estimate of 4.2 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken shale formation could be “100 percent off.”
“I think we’re going to be twice that,” said Hamm, chairman and chief executive officer of Continental Resources Inc., an independent oil and gas company based in Enid, Okla. His company was one of the first to tap the Bakken formation in North Dakota’s oil patch 20 years ago. Hamm also said the underlying Three Forks-Sanish formation could hold as much oil as the Bakken above.
The Bakken formation encompasses some 25,000 square miles in North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. About two-thirds of the acreage is in western North Dakota.
Lynn Helms, director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, told Salazar much of the untapped Three Forks-Sanish formation is on federal grasslands and that the state must partner with federal government.
“We do not want to work as opponents,” Helms said. “We want to work as a team.”
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