Spending on oil and natural gas research and development (R&D) has dropped 91% during the past decade under the Bush administration, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

Department of Energy (DOE) oil and gas R&D appropriations were pegged at $14.3 million for the current fiscal year, a fraction of the nearly $162.5 million that was spent in fiscal year 1997, said the GAO report, which was requested Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND), chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

Natural gas R&D spending fell nearly 90% to $11.7 million in this fiscal year from $117.3 million in fiscal year 1997, partially because fuel cell technologies and advanced gas turbines have been removed from the natural gas R&D budget, according to the report.

As for oil R&D appropriations, they dropped 94% to $2.6 million in the current fiscal year from about $45.2 million a decade ago, said the GAO, which is the investigative arm of Congress.

Spending on DOE oil and gas R&D activities has declined practically each successive year since fiscal year 1997, with oil and gas technologies receiving the lowest budget in the current year.

R&D appropriations have been used to fund projects to increase exploration and production, address environmental protection, extend reservoir lives, develop gas hydrates and carry out other activities, including development of fuel cells, gas turbines and infrastructure improvements, the report said.

The GAO said future DOE R&D investments could potentially yield results in three broad areas: increasing domestic oil and gas production -- especially from independent producers -- to a higher level; reducing environmental impacts in some cases; and developing "game changing" technologies, such as gas hydrates and carbon sequestration that increases production.

In deciding its role in oil and gas R&D, the federal government should consider whether the energy industry is motivated to conduct research on its own; whether cost-sharing opportunities exist with universities, state agencies and independent companies; and whether the benefits of research exceed the costs, the report said.

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