Where's the Fracking Support in Obama's Budget?

WASHINGTON – Senators from both parties issued strong objections Thursday over what they view as the Obama administration’s failure to provide sufficient funds for fracking research in the proposed 2014 Department of Energy budget.

During a budget hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also agreed that the $28.4 billion spending package doesn’t invest sufficient funds in support of alternative energy sources like hydropower.

Wyden, the committee chairman, said many of the cuts contained in the president’s budget were “clearly misguided.”

“I remain concerned about some of the investment decisions that I’ve seen in the Department of Energy budget because I don’t think they truly reflect the level playing field that’s needed to promote choice and competition in energy and particularly encourage energy investment,” Wyden said.

Murkowski, the ranking Republican who supported Wyden in all of his objections, said she was disappointed in the administration’s document and insisted that too many potentially rewarding energy sources are ignored.

The administration, Murkowski said, is constantly emphasizing its “all of the above” approach to energy sources “but I don’t see that necessarily reflected in the budget here.”

“Instead it would appear there are still the favorites, even amongst the renewables and the vehicle technologies,” Murkowski said. “One example is the water power account is cut despite the fact that hydropower is by far our largest source of clean, renewable energy.”

Daniel B. Poneman, the deputy secretary and chief operating officer for the Department of Energy, defended the initiative, asserting that the budget’s research initiatives “will help power America’s great innovation machine to accelerate energy breakthroughs and create jobs.”

“The administration recognizes the government’s role in fostering scientific and technological breakthroughs and has committed significant resources to ensure America leads the world in the innovations of the future,” Poneman said.

As an example, he cited the proposed $5.2 billion funding for the Office of Science to support basic research “that could lead to new discoveries and help solve our energy challenges.”

“These funds support progress in materials science, basic energy science, advanced computing and more,” he said. “They also provide America’s researchers and industries with state-of-the-art tools to ensure they stay at the cutting edge of science.”

But Wyden expressed particular concern about research into hydraulic fracturing, popularly known as fracking, a method implemented to reach natural gas deposits by drilling into the earth’s surface using pressurized liquid and breaking into shale. Fracking has resulted in record-high levels of natural gas production.

The proposed budget devotes $12 million toward research on natural gas technology – a 15 percent cut.

“While this has certainly been a big plus for our economy and benefits our country in a whole host of ways, valid concerns have been raised as to how safely this continued development can be done,” Wyden said. “These environmental issues in my mind have got to be addressed and they’ve got to be addressed right.”

The investment in research in natural gas extraction “would be returned many times over in savings that would be accrued in environmental cleanup and revenue from further development,” Wyden said. “So there’s a lot on the line. And it’s hard to say look at the size of the stakes and then see this really very modest, disproportionately small effort put into research.”