5
Principal Findings and Recommendations

With the adoption in 1997 of the strategic plan for the USGS [USGS: Science for a Changing World (USGS, 1997a)] and the strategic plan for the GD [Geology for a Changing World (USGS, 1997b)], the USGS has demonstrated a commitment to science in the public interest—science with significant policy relevance. These plans aim to provide policymakers at all levels of government with unbiased geological information for use in making the trade-offs that national policy always entails. This report considers the placement of the ERP within the structure created by the USGS and GD strategic plans. In this concluding chapter, the panel returns to the questions posed to it.

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 ERP is the nation's provider of resource assessments for onshore lands and state waters. If the ERP were to cease providing this information, the private sector or a variety of other federal and state agencies would be forced to undertake similar studies. The results of ERP research and assessment activities also prove useful to a variety of private organizations that



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--> 5 Principal Findings and Recommendations With the adoption in 1997 of the strategic plan for the USGS [USGS: Science for a Changing World (USGS, 1997a)] and the strategic plan for the GD [Geology for a Changing World (USGS, 1997b)], the USGS has demonstrated a commitment to science in the public interest—science with significant policy relevance. These plans aim to provide policymakers at all levels of government with unbiased geological information for use in making the trade-offs that national policy always entails. This report considers the placement of the ERP within the structure created by the USGS and GD strategic plans. In this concluding chapter, the panel returns to the questions posed to it. 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 ERP is the nation's provider of resource assessments for onshore lands and state waters. If the ERP were to cease providing this information, the private sector or a variety of other federal and state agencies would be forced to undertake similar studies. The results of ERP research and assessment activities also prove useful to a variety of private organizations that

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--> explore for and extract energy resources, as well as to academic and federal research enterprises. The panel concludes that the ERP fulfills a mission essential to the federal government. The panel recommends that the ERP develop a formal mission statement and a strategic plan that fits within and contributes 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 on onshore U.S. and state offshore energy resources and the geologic factors that control the abundance of the resource, its quality, and its location. The ERP also assesses undiscovered and unconventional resources in the EEZ (e.g., methane hydrates). Other related agencies have different roles. The most similar is the MMS, which manages energy and mineral resources of federal offshore areas. In addition to conducting offshore resource assessments, MMS also conducts lease sales. Thus, the ERP and MMS have similar objectives in the assessment arena 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 BLM, BIA on Indian reservations, and USFS are responsible for managing energy and mineral resources of federal onshore lands. BLM conducts lease sales for federal lands but does not undertake assessments of undiscovered resources. The DOE and particularly its EIA collect information about energy reserves (known and identified quantities of energy resources that can be exploited profitably 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 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 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

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--> 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 between 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 on geologic fundamentals of resource occurrence, as exemplified in basin, stratigraphic, and structural studies, 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 . The panel also notes that the balance of domestic and international energy sources will continue to evolve over the decades to come. 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. The panel notes that the current ERP coverage responds to the present reality of energy use in the United States. Oil, natural gas, and coal provide most of the energy used and, as a result, are the focus of the resource assessments and related research conducted by the ERP. Although these energy sources are now of primary importance, and probably will continue to be for decades to come, the panel also notes that there are many uncertainties in the U.S. energy future. It is not clear, for example, whether concerns about carbon dioxide emissions will cause policymakers to limit burning of fossil fuels at some point, and the future economics of energy sources is certain to differ from the present situation. Accordingly, 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 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

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--> available as these assets are catalogued. Resource allocations to some of these areas for the near term will no doubt be modest, and some will involve collaboration with other programs inside and outside the USGS. The panel recognizes that a careful planning process will be required to craft a strategy for research and assessment that develops appropriate priorities for the broadened portfolio. Effectiveness. Has the Program Proven Effective in Addressing Energy Resource Issues of National Importance? The panel finds the 1995 domestic oil and gas assessments to be effective, of high quality, and a substantial improvement over previous assessments. The panel commends the ERP for its productive consultations with states and industry and for the innovative methods used to disseminate the results. The panel notes that the current assessment being conducted in the coal resources subprogram is still underway; hence, it is too early to judge its impact and effectiveness. The panel believes that the national coal assessment can be strengthened and urges the coal subprogram to complete a comprehensive assessment. In the panel's view, the national coal assessment should identify, and clearly state priorities of a comprehensive nationwide coal resource assessment; identify and clearly state the assumptions of the framework of a comprehensive coal resource assessment; identify the portions of the resource endowment that are not included in the study and explain why; explain clearly the limitations, qualifications, and restrictions of the data used in the assessment; plan for the evaluation of the remaining resource endowment as data become more available or the resources become economically viable; and design a program of supporting research that adequately focuses on coal resources in basins that have not been extensively studied and that uses integrated, basin-scale studies incorporating modern approaches of sedimentology and sequence and seismic stratigraphy. In addition, the panel urges the coal assessment team to provide clear statements of the limitations of the data collected and to build links with the coal industry as a way to review the accuracy of assessments and to improve access to data. The panel observes that data compiled by the world energy subprogram are much in demand. Both federal agencies and energy companies have found its products to have significant value. The panel anticipates that the level of interest in such products will continue to increase. 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.

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--> 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 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 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. Stronger interaction with diverse audiences will help the ERP develop a service culture that complements its science culture. The panel believes that the ERP has built a solid foundation upon which a successful future program can be built. It is in a good position to plan effectively for its future, and the panel encourages it to plan strategically for its role in a world in which population pressures, global environmental concerns, and a linked world economy will all intersect in the need to supply energy for the United States. A successful ERP will help the United States understand and guide its energy future.

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