DOE, DOI and EPA formally partner to coordinate and align research associated with developing US unconventional gas and oil
|Venn diagram summarizing the core research competencies of each of the three agencies. Click to enlarge.|
The US Departments of Energy (DOE) and of the Interior (DOI), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a formal partnership to coordinate and align all research associated with development of the US’ unconventional natural gas and oil resources such as shale gas and oil. The partnership exemplifies the cross-government coordination required under President Obama’s executive order released earlier today, which mandated a new Interagency Working Group to Support Safe and Responsible Development of Unconventional Domestic Natural Gas Resources. (Earlier post.)
The new partnership will help coordinate current and future research and scientific studies undertaken by the three federal agencies. A primary goal of this effort will be to identify research topics where collaboration among the three agencies can be most effectively and efficiently conducted to provide results and technologies that support sound policy decisions by the agencies responsible for ensuring the prudent development of energy sources while promoting safe practices and human health. A broader set of activities will be coordinated under the newly ordered Interagency Working Group.
Within the partnership between DOE, DOI and EPA, each agency remains responsible for implementing its own authorities and internal priority-setting processes. The broad goals of the partnership are:
Focus each agency on its area of core competency.
Collaborate on research topics as appropriate. There will be tasks for which the combined capabilities of more than one agency will be required address a particular research topic. One example provided in the Memorandum establishing the agency partnership is search on water use for hydraulic fracking. EPA focuses on the impacts and effectiveness of current technology, DOE focuses on improvements that future technology innovations may yield, and USGS focuses on stream gage and groundwater monitoring to determine water availability, use and groundwater flow modeling. Another example is the ongoing prospective study in the Marcellus shale upon which the three agencies are already collaborating.
Bring coordination and consistency to the annual budget process.
To form the partnership, the agencies will take the following steps:
The agencies will create a steering committee to coordinate activities for unconventional oil and gas research. Each agency is contributing two members: one focused on policy, the other focused on research and technology. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) will also provide a member to serve on the Steering Committee. The lead agency of the committeer will rotate annually, in alphabetical order.
Within 9 months of formation, the Steering Committee will publish a multi-year research plan that will analyze and synthesize the current state of knowledge about unconventional oil and gas research; identify, categorize and prioritize research topics relevant to safety and environmental sustainability of development; identify gaps in available data and appropriate activities to address these topics; identify research milestones and deliverables; describe steps to promote transparency; establish specific mechanisms for cooperative relationships; and define future plans, goals and objectives.
Within 6 months of formation, the committee is to have a draft version of the research plan available for public comment.
Science, research and innovation continue to play a vital role in our efforts to further expand oil and gas production in the United States and make sure it’s done safely and responsibly. Improvements in technologies like hydraulic fracturing are responsible for greatly increasing our capacity to develop America’s abundant unconventional resources in recent years. Through a close collaboration across the government that reduces redundancy and streamlines our research, we are positioning the Obama Administration to best meet the critical need of increasing public understanding and public confidence of these critical technologies so that we can continue safe and responsible exploration and production for many decades to come.—Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes