Lawmakers question funds budgeted to EPA for fracking studies

On April 26, 2013, members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Subcommittee on Environment Joint Hearing - A Review of Federal Hydraulic Fracturing Research Activities | Committee on Science - U.S. House of Representatives questioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about its studies on hydraulic fracturing and the additional monies requested to pursue these studies. The 2014 proposed budget sets aside $38 million to continue a multi-agency study of fracking’s impact, a project that was given $45 million in 2013. The Subcommittee members want the EPA to explain what it plans to do with the additional money, especially in light of the “Administration’s embarrassing track record of unsubstantiated allegations when it comes to hydraulic fracturing.” One of the members questioned whether “a blank check for the Administration is a good policy” and stated that the budget needs to be carefully considered because the “EPA’s past and on-going fracturing studies and investigations demonstrate a cart-before-the-horse approach” to science. The members pointed to the EPA’s “draft” report dated December 2011 which implied that fracking was responsible for water contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming. That report was later revealed to be “deeply flawed.” Even the EPA’s former Administrator indicated that she was not confident that the water contamination in Pavillion was caused by fracking.

In addition, the multi-agency study has yet to get off the ground. In April of 2012, President Obama issued an Executive Order -- Supporting Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources | The White House creating a senior level task force charged with coordinating federal actions related to the development of unconventional natural gas. Immediately thereafter, the EPA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Interior signed a Memorandum of Agreement to develop an interagency plan to study environmental impacts of unconventional oil and gas production. These departments committed to release a draft research plan in October 2012 and complete the final plan by January 2013. Neither of these deadlines has been met. According to the Subcommittee members, the “Administration should recognize that shale gas is a solution rather than a problem.”

This article was prepared by Barclay Nicholson ( or 713 651 3662) from Fulbright's Energy Practice Group and Heather M. Corken ( or 713 651 8386) from Fulbright's Environmental Law Practice Group.