The House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss the FY2014 budget for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  BLM manages over 700 million acres of federal lands and  is promulgating regulations for hydraulic fracturing on such lands. Neil Kornze, the Principal Deputy Director of the agency, was the only witness at the hearing. There was significant discussion at the hearing of the economic benefits of hydraulic fracturing, the prospect of new regulations on the practice, and the effects of sequestration on the agency and its ability to efficiently process permit applications.

Rep. Graves (R-GA) initiated the discussion of hydraulic fracturing, noting that the agency is updating its regulations of the practice on public lands to require public disclosure of injection chemicals, ensure wellbore integrity, and maintain water quality. He noted that there have been no proven cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing, and that former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson testified that the technology is safe and does not require special regulation. Mr. Kornze agreed that there have been no proven cases of groundwater contamination, and said the proposed rules are intended to give the public confidence that the resources are being developed responsibly. Mr. Kornze further assured the committee that the agency is working with states to ensure its regulations are consistent and not duplicative. Rep. Pingree (D-ME) noted the economic benefits of hydraulic fracturing by pointing out that companies and capital are returning to the U.S. because of the economic potential the practice offers.

Rep. Moran (D-VA) noted the challenges sequestration has introduced to BLM’s job of managing federal lands. He asserted that the agency has been forced to slow the processing of oil and gas drilling permits due to a lack of funding. Mr. Kornze agreed, estimating that the agency will issue 300 fewer drilling permits, approve fewer lease sales, and lose $200 million in revenue.