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Federal Agency Budgets Target Hydraulic Fracturing Studies

President Obama's fiscal 2013 budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Interior (DOI) propose funding directed at assessing the impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale.

EPA's proposed budget, which was unveiled Monday, provides $81 million for its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants to conduct research in key areas such as hydraulic fracturing, potential endocrine disruptors, and green infrastructure. Of that total, some $14 million will be directed to fracking investigation.

"Building upon ongoing research and collaborating with the Department of Energy and the [DOI's] U.S. Geological Survey [USGS], a total $14 million investment will begin to assess potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on air quality, water quality, and ecosystems," the EPA budget proposal said. "The EPA also will release an Interim Report on the Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources in 2012."

EPA's overall budget was cut for the third year in a row. The president proposes $8.344 billion in spending for EPA in FY 2012, which is $105 million below the EPA's enacted level for FY 2012.

In the DOE budget Obama renewed his proposal to cut more than $40 billion in tax breaks for oil, gas and coal producers in the next decade to spend more for conservation and alternative energy.

DOE's budget includes $12 million for a multiyear research effort to reduce risks associated with fracking in shale formations. "The money would fund a research program to improve safety of natural gas development including hydraulic fracturing...to allow drillers access to vast new supplies of natural gas," the DOE budget proposal said. The research is in response to "critics [who] say it has led to pollution of air and water."

The FY 2013 budget for USGS includes an increase of $13 million to support the fracking research and development effort with the DOE and EPA. "I think the best thing that we can do is stand up the natural gas industry and support it as the president has directed us to do by making sure the people in the United States have confidence that hydraulic fracking is not creating environmental problems," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar during a press briefing on the department's budget.

The three agencies will come together as a "cohesive effort" to support the president's plan for natural gas, he noted.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which oversees pipeline safety, would receive a $75 million increase in funding from FY 2012.

Citing outdoor recreation, renewable energy, environmentally-sound oil and gas development, sage-grouse conservation, and other key priorities, Obama also requested $1.1 billion in appropriations for the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for 2013. This request is essentially level with the FY 2012 enacted level for the BLM, which employs 10,365 full-time equivalent staff.

The BLM budget transfers $2 million in base geothermal energy funding currently in the Oil and Gas Management program to the Renewable Energy Management program. The budget also proposes to expand and strengthen the BLM's oil and gas inspection capability through the imposition of fees on industry. According to the BLM, the fee schedule included in the budget would generate an estimated $48 million in collections, which would offset a proposed reduction of $38 million in appropriated funds, providing for a net increase of $10 million available for "this critical BLM management responsibility," the department said.

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