Executive Summary

This study was undertaken in recognition of the critical role played by the Energy Resources Program (ERP) of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in the energy future of the United States. The ERP performs fundamental research to understand the origin and recoverability of fossil energy resources and conducts assessments of their future availability. The ERP also provides information and expertise on environmental effects.

In 1997 the Geologic Division (GD) of the USGS invited the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct an independent review of the ERP. Subsequently, an NRC panel was formed and asked to consider the mission (see Chapter 2), role (see Chapter 2), balance (see Chapter 3), effectiveness (see Chapter 4), and future directions (see Chapter 4) of the ERP. The charge to the NRC panel included five questions:

  1. Is the scientific mission of the ERP appropriate for a federal earth-science agency?
  2. Is the role of the program clearly defined in relation to other federal agencies and are the program's responsibilities consistent with its mission?
  3. Is the program appropriately balanced between resource and environmental issues? Is it appropriately balanced between research and assessment activities?
  4. Has the program proven effective in addressing energy resource issues of national importance?
  5. How should the program's activities, scientific and technical expertise, and infrastructure evolve to meet future needs?


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--> Executive Summary This study was undertaken in recognition of the critical role played by the Energy Resources Program (ERP) of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in the energy future of the United States. The ERP performs fundamental research to understand the origin and recoverability of fossil energy resources and conducts assessments of their future availability. The ERP also provides information and expertise on environmental effects. In 1997 the Geologic Division (GD) of the USGS invited the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct an independent review of the ERP. Subsequently, an NRC panel was formed and asked to consider the mission (see Chapter 2), role (see Chapter 2), balance (see Chapter 3), effectiveness (see Chapter 4), and future directions (see Chapter 4) of the ERP. The charge to the NRC panel included five questions: Is the scientific mission of the ERP appropriate for a federal earth-science agency? Is the role of the program clearly defined in relation to other federal agencies and are the program's responsibilities consistent with its mission? Is the program appropriately balanced between resource and environmental issues? Is it appropriately balanced between research and assessment activities? Has the program proven effective in addressing energy resource issues of national importance? How should the program's activities, scientific and technical expertise, and infrastructure evolve to meet future needs?

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--> Accordingly, the aim of this report is to provide guidance to the USGS about the present and future directions of its ERP. Specifically, the report reviews and recommends improvements to the program in relation to the energy challenges of the next century. A concise description of the panel's answers to these questions (with major conclusions and suggestions printed in italics and recommendations in bold type) follows: Mission. Is the Scientific Mission of the USGS Energy Resources Program Appropriate for a Federal Earth-Science Agency? The ERP does not have a formal mission statement, but the panel concludes that the mission of the ERP—to provide up-to-date and impartial assessments of geologically based energy resources of the nation and the world—is fully appropriate for a federal earth-science agency. The information and data are essential to the management of federal lands, to the understanding of the environmental impacts of the extraction and use of energy resources, and to the planning of national energy policy. The panel believes that the ERP fulfills a mission essential to the federal government, and therefore, it recommends that the ERP develop a formal mission statement and a strategic plan that fits within and contribute to the mission statements and strategic plans adopted recently for the GD and for the USGS as a whole. Role. Is the Role of the Program Clearly Defined Relative to Other Federal Energy Agencies and are the Program's responsibilities Consistent with its Mission? The panel also concludes that the role of the ERP is clearly defined . The ERP focuses primarily on onshore United States energy resources and the geologic factors that control the abundance of the resource, its quality, and its location. In contrast, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) manages energy and mineral resources of federal offshore areas and conducts lease sales. The ERP and MMS have similar assessment objectives but cover mutually exclusive geographic areas. The panel urges the ERP and the MMS to continue to work closely together. The objective of a close collaboration is the provision of consistent and complementary onshore and offshore resource assessments. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on Indian reservations, and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) are responsible for managing energy and mineral resources of federal onshore lands but do not undertake assessments of undiscovered resources. The Department of Energy (DOE) and particularly its Energy Information Administration (EIA) collect information about energy reserves (known and identified quantities of resources that can be profitably exploited now), energy production, and energy use. ERP data are used by EIA, BLM, BIA, and USFS to perform their functions. A significant duplication of effort would

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--> be the result if agencies were to develop internally the information provided to them by the ERP. Nonetheless, the ERP must take every step to ensure that its data are readily available to federal agencies, both inside and outside the Department of the Interior (DOI). Balance. Is the Program Appropriately Balanced Between Resource and Environmental Issues? Is it Appropriately Balanced Between Research and Assessment Activities? In the panel's view, the test of a balanced program should extend beyond the sets of issues and activities raised by the two questions posed above. Specifically, the panel urges more balanced consideration of the diversity of energy sources of potential significance in the nation's future. The level of effort on the environmental side has been lower than that on resource assessment. Environmental activities in the ERP have been undertaken in selected areas: oil and gas chemistry, chemistry and disposal of produced waters, and coal chemistry and acid-mine drainage. The objective, an appropriate one in the panel's view, has been to provide information and expertise related to the potential impact of energy resource extraction and use. Rather than broaden the scope of the environmental program at this stage, the panel urges the ERP to develop partnerships with users of its environmental data and to use these partnerships to conduct a systematic review of the data now being collected to determine what additional data would have significant benefits. The panel notes that the balance among research, assessment, and service is an issue that is important to the GD and the USGS as a whole. The panel believes that research and assessment are thoroughly entwined and that high-quality assessment must involve high-quality research. Similarly, research and service are inseparable. The panel urges the ERP to view research as an essential and integral component of assessment. Hence, the panel recommends that the ERP in particular and the USGS as a whole maintain the strong research and knowledge base that is essential to the provision of services the ERP is uniquely qualified to provide. Because international energy flows and prices strongly influence the viability of energy sources in the United States, the panel encourages the ERP to evaluate whether the effort on world energy resource assessment and supporting research should be increased above present levels. Oil, natural gas, and coal provide most of the energy currently used and, as a result, are the focus of the resource assessments and related research conducted by the ERP. Because there are many uncertainties in our energy future, the panel recommends that the ERP portfolio be broadened to include geologically based energy resources beyond oil, gas, and coal, and that the ERP develop priorities for long-term balance among the various energy resources as part of the implementation of its strategic plan. Resource assessments

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--> should be available for very heavy oil, oil shale and carbonaceous shales, geothermal resources, and uranium, as well as conventional oil and gas, coal, coalbed methane, and methane hydrates, although the depth of the assessment will vary by energy source, given variable probabilities of economic use on equally variable time scales. Many of these energy resources exist on federal lands—another reason to make sure that appropriate scientific understanding is available as these assets are catalogued. The ERP should develop priorities for the allocation of resources and personnel as part of the development of its strategic plan. Effectiveness. Has the Program Proven Effective in Addressing Energy Resource Issues of National Importance? The panel finds the oil and gas subprogram, as exemplified by the recently released 1995 oil and gas assessment, to be effective and encourages the ERP to continually evaluate the appropriate level of effort in this subprogram. It is not yet possible to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the coal subprogram because the current assessment is still underway. The panel does, however, have some concerns and urges the coal subprogram to complete a comprehensive assessment; to state clearly the assumptions and procedures upon which the assessment is based; to design a program of supporting research that adequately focuses on coal resources in basins that have not been extensively studied and that uses modern approaches of sedimentology and sequence and seismic stratigraphy; and to provide for appropriate involvement of industry and states. The panel views the world oil and gas subprogram as effective. Program Evolution. How Should the Program's Activities, Scientific and Technical Expertise, and Infrastructure Evolve to Meet Future Needs? Evolution of the activities of the ERP should be guided by a continuing strategic planning process that involves a portfolio of energy sources and anticipates changing policy environments and new developments in science and technology. Renewal of scientific and technical expertise is a critical issue for the evolution of the ERP. The range of expertise should be guided by the strategic planning process, and the distribution of skills and experience should be consistent with the strategic plan. Data and information management, and communication with clients and partners, are important aspects of the near-term evolution of the infrastructure of the ERP. The panel commends and supports the ERP's substantial effort to make its products available in electronic, searchable form. The panel also supports the intent of the ERP's Decision Support System (DSS), but suggests that careful reevaluation of the in-house development approach is needed. The panel commends the ERP for its efforts to provide rapid response to external users of its

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--> information. The panel believes that policies for managing the USGS core repository and other geological samples need to be reviewed to determine whether long-term archiving of and access to core, cuttings, and other geological samples constitute an important part of the mission and role of the ERP. The panel notes that the ERP should look for opportunities for improvement of communications between the oil and gas and the coal subprograms, and the panel encourages the ERP to continue to strengthen its public outreach. The panel believes that the ERP has built a solid foundation upon which a successful future program can be built. A successful ERP will help the United States understand and guide its energy future.

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