The U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS’s) Energy Resources Program (ERP) is a primary source of unbiased, publicly available national- and regional-scale research and assessments of the location, quantity, and quality of geologically based energy resources. The ERP collects data, develops models, assessments, and standards for those energy resources that constitute the nation’s geologically based energy portfolio. The program also examines potential environmental aspects of energy production. Geologically based energy resources are those sources of fuel or energy production that originate in earth materials (e.g., oil, gas, coal, methane hydrates, uranium) or in earth processes (e.g., geothermal energy) and are the focus of this report.
The fundamental geologic studies and assessments conducted by the ERP contribute to the discovery and production of energy resources in the United States and globally. They support policy related to the nation’s energy mix, land-use, and regulatory strategies, and they inform international energy diplomacy. ERP products support and complement the work of agencies such as the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Fossil Energy (including the Strategic Petroleum Reserve Program and Energy Information Administration) and Geothermal Technologies Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Forest Service, and other bureaus within the Department of the Interior (DOI). The academic community, the private sector, and international organizations also frequently reference ERP products. Recent ERP products include assessments of undiscovered continuous (also known as unconventional)1 oil and gas resources within the United States and globally; potential geothermal resources for Akutan, Alaska (Bergfeld et al., 2014); and environmental signatures of oil and gas wastewater spills in North Dakota (Cozzarelli et al., 2017).
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (National Academies) reviewed energy resource-related activities of the USGS in 1999 (NRC, 1999). Since then, the nation’s energy portfolio, energy requirements, technologies related to exploration and development, information management technologies, and the knowledge base on which national energy resource research and assessments are developed have undergone significant expansion and evolution. In the last decade alone, the capability to
1 The committee uses the term “continuous” when referring to unconventional oil and gas development methods at the request of ERP management, but adds “unconventional” parenthetically for clarity.
combine horizontal and directional drilling with hydraulic fracturing2 has facilitated the development of vast resources of previously uneconomic oil and gas resources in the United States. Questions about the potential environmental impacts of the development of these resources, however, have also increased. Moreover, interest in and use of different renewable energy technologies has broadened the suite of energy resources contributing to the nation’s energy requirements and demands. These changes not only have affected the way in which the energy resources themselves are assessed, accessed, and valued, but also have resulted in new or different impacts on land, air, and water resources in the regions where energy development takes place. The ERP combines raw geologic, geochemical, and geophysical data collected by the agency with data from literature, state and other federal agencies, and the private sector to create products that enhance understanding of geologically based energy resources and support their prudent development.
As the national and global energy portfolio evolves, reasoned policies and decision making related to energy resources at various levels of government, within nongovernmental bodies, and in the private sector depend on high-quality scientific analysis and its dissemination. So that the USGS can most effectively inform such policy and decision making, the ERP has requested the National Academies to consider the nation’s geologically-based energy resource challenges and the ways in which the work of the ERP can best be developed and aligned to help address them. This report is the product of that National Academies effort.
The National Academies was asked to identify the nation’s current energy challenges, suggest how the ERP’s research portfolio could be strengthened to better meet the needs of its stakeholders, and suggest strategies for portfolio development to prepare the ERP for challenges to come in the next 10-15 years. The charge to the National Academies is provided in Box 1.1. The committee was asked to consider the ERP portfolio (i.e., the issues being addressed to some degree by the ERP) and products (e.g., data, databases, assessments, professional papers), but not to conduct a review of ERP management and processes. The focus of this report is the work of the ERP. References are made to the work of other agencies, including those with which the ERP collaborates (e.g., the DOE), but no effort was made to compare the work of ERP to that of other agencies. The committee was not asked to consider how the ERP budget and resources were allocated, nor was it asked to recommend activities in light of what future budgets might be. The committee’s recommendations are provided, however, with the understanding that ERP resources are limited. The text includes some suggestions for efficiencies in implementation and opportunities for cost sharing with relevant agencies.
2 Hydraulic fracturing is the process by which rocks in the subsurface are subjected to the injection of high pressure fluids to create fractures in the rock. These fractures stimulate flow of fluids and gases (e.g., oil and gas). Hydraulic fracturing is used to stimulate the extraction of oil and gas from source rock, or, in the case of engineered thermal systems, to create a network of fractures in competent hot rock through which water may flow and be heated.
The distinction between ERP product and process was important during the committee’s deliberations and it often decided whether a line of inquiry was consistent with the statement of task by considering under which category the inquiry fell. Whereas this report focuses on the ERP’s portfolio and products, the committee also considered how the ERP might stay aware of the priorities and information needs of ERP product consumers so that its products might be most relevant in the future.
While this committee’s task was focused on ERP activities, another National Academies ad hoc committee has been convened separately to consider the water science and research portfolio of the USGS Water Resources mission area.3 The USGS and the National Academies negotiated these tasks to be distinct and independent. This report does not reflect the deliberations of that other committee.
Members of the ad hoc committee that conducted this study were nominated by their peers and selected by the National Academies based on their individual expertise. The
3 See https://www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/projectview.aspx?key=49879. This website documents the activities of the National Academies Committee on Future Water Resource Needs for the Nation: Water Science and Research at the U.S. Geological Survey. The website will be active as long as the study is under way, but will expire when the study in question is complete and the committee’s final report is issued.
National Academies made efforts to balance that expertise and to avoid any unnecessary conflict of interest and bias. Expertise in areas such as conventional and continuous (unconventional) oil and gas and other hydrocarbon exploration (see Box 1.2), assessment methodologies, and production was considered important as was expertise in issues related to renewable energy technologies (e.g., geothermal) and uranium exploration and production, geologically based carbon sequestration,4 induced seismicity, geochemistry,
4 Geologically based carbon sequestration refers to the long-term storage of industrially produced carbon dioxide in subsurface reservoirs. See https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2010/3122/pdf/FS2010-3122.pdf.
and hydrology. Because the statement of task asks the committee to consider long-term (i.e., 10-15 years) research strategies the program might adopt, the committee includes expertise in energy policy and analysis and in the relationships between energy production, the environment, and ecosystems. Individuals familiar with the ERP portfolio and products from industry, academia, and state geological surveys were included on the committee roster. Brief biographies of the committee members are included in Appendix A.
Prior to the committee’s first meeting, the ERP provided an informational packet to the committee (included as Appendix B). ERP management and staff provided additional information as needed throughout the course of the study. The committee heard presentations from and held discussions with leadership of the DOI and the USGS, with ERP staff, and with federal, state, and industry consumers of ERP products during two of its three meetings. It also interacted with several ERP scientists based at the USGS facilities at the Denver Federal Center during a tour of labs at that facility. Agendas from the committee’s information-gathering sessions of its meetings are provided in Appendix C. Committee members individually also sought input from stakeholder groups within the federal government and nongovernmental organizations, state agencies, professional and scientific organizations, and private businesses. The committee held numerous web conferences to deliberate its task and discuss drafts of this report.
Because the ERP does not have formal mechanisms to capture and present information about their products and how they are used, much of the information from which the committee developed its conclusions and recommendations was, by necessity, anecdotal. The committee, therefore, had little or no quantitative data regarding the types and numbers of ERP products available in different formats, the numbers of downloads of ERP products, or how often ERP product webpages were accessed by the public. The committee could not examine comprehensive and quantified lists of which organizations were accessing ERP products, nor is the committee certain that such lists exist. The committee made great efforts to receive input from many ERP product consumers from a variety of viewpoints (for example, see organizations represented in the agendas in Appendix C), but, given the information available and constraints of the study process, the committee did not conduct a scientific sampling of stakeholder opinions regarding the relevance and quality of ERP products. Conclusions in this report are based on the input received during the committee’s information gathering and on the experience and knowledge of the committee members themselves, many of whom are also consumers of ERP data.
The USGS was created in the Organic Act of 1879 to map reserves of the nation. Specifically, the act mandated “classification of the public lands and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain” (20 Stat. 394; 43 U.S.C. 21). The ERP, housed within the USGS Energy and Mineral Resources mission
area, is one of the seven core USGS mission areas and its mission largely embodies the original mandate for the USGS as stated in the Organic Act. The other core mission areas are Water Resources, Natural Hazards, Environmental Health, Ecosystems, Climate and Land Use Change, and Core Science Systems.5
The ERP’s role is to collect, analyze, and present data; to conduct research; and to carry out studies (e.g., evaluation of environmental impacts) to inform policy and regulatory formulation and implementation. Chapter 3 describes the ERP’s research portfolio. According to a presentation made to the committee by Walter Guidroz, program coordinator of the ERP, the program
- Investigates processes critical to the formation and accumulation of geologically based energy resources;
- Conducts resources assessments (e.g., potential supply of [conventional and unconventional] oil and gas…, coal gas hydrates, uranium) and other energy-based studies (e.g., wind);
- Evaluates geological aspects of renewable energy resources (e.g., geothermal) and carbon sequestration;
- Investigates the environmental effects of energy resource occurrence, production, and use (e.g., produced waters associated with oil and gas development). (W. Guidroz, presentation to the committee, September 5, 2017)
According to Guidroz, over half of the ERP’s budget supports research and resource assessments on national and international oil and gas resources.
Administration of the Energy Resources Program
The ERP organization includes a program coordinator, based in Reston, Virginia, who reports to the associate director of energy and minerals. The ERP staff include program coordinators, analysts, information specialists, scientists/technical experts, and other staff who work in 3 of the USGS’s 16 science centers: the Eastern Energy Resources Science Center (Reston, Virginia), the Central Energy Resources Science Center (Denver, Colorado), and the Geology, Mineral, Energy and Geophysics Science Center (Menlo Park, California). According to presentations made to the committee by ERP staff, 137 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff were projected to be allocated to the ERP during FY18.
The ERP currently manages a number of projects based on requests from the Administration and the DOI. Other projects are based on program priorities and direction from a program council that meets annually to review ERP project progress and performance. Program council members include the ERP program coordinator and the three associate program coordinators, Science Center directors, deputies of the three most relevant science centers, and invited guests, including USGS staff and external contacts (e.g., from the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management).
The ERP collaborates with a number of other bureaus within the DOI, other federal agencies, foreign governments, tribes, states, academic and professional organizations, and the private sector (see below and Chapter 3 for more detail).
ERP Budgeting and Resource Allocation
The breadth of consumers and the rapid change in the energy landscape has led to a broad portfolio of nearly 20 ERP program areas, spread across the current energy spectrum (see Figure 1.1). This portfolio has expanded considerably since the 1999 review of the program (NRC, 1999), when the ERP focused primarily in three subprograms: National Oil and Gas Resource Investigations and Assessment, National Coal Resource Investigations and Assessments, and World Energy Investigations and Assessments. The ERP budget for FY2017 was approximately $24.7 million6 (see Table 1.1 for budgets and numbers of employees allocated per budget), forming part of the request for the USGS Energy and Mineral Resources and Environmental Health mission areas of ~$91.5 million; the budget has decreased over the last 15 years (see Figure 1.2), although the functions and responsibilities of the ERP have expanded.
The ERP allocates its resources and prioritizes its activities based on input from several sources: (1) There is a legal but not limiting requirement for the program to assess the potential for undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources under federal lands, using identical methodologies for all assessments (EPCA, 2000, and Amendments, 2005). (2) The ERP receives requests from the DOI. (3) It is provided guidance from an
6 Based on written input provided to the committee on March 30, 2017.
TABLE 1.1 ERP Budget and FTEs for FY17
|Project||Millions($)||% of total||FTE|
|Investigations of Waters Injected or Produced||1.03||4.172||6.55|
|Fate and Effects of Wastes from Unconventional Oil and Gas Development (Toxic - Cozzarelli)||0.019||0.078|
|Economics, Energy Resources, and Future Supply||0.418||1.693||2|
|Geochemistry of Energy Fuels||1.191||4.824||6.72|
|U.S. Coal Resources||1.009||4.086||4.85|
|Geoinformatics for Eastern Energy Resources Science Center (EERSC)||0.581||2.353||3.39|
|Alaska Petroleum Systems||1.514||6.132||6.85|
|Wind Energy Impacts||0.440||1.782||2.99|
|EERSC Quality Management System (QMS) Implementation||0.645||2.612||4.68|
|Central Energy Resources Science Center (CERSC) QMS||0.516||2.090||3.49|
|Data Management Services, CERSC||0.566||2.292||3.54|
|Energy Geochemistry Laboratories||1.004||4.066||6.42|
|National Oil and Gas Assessment of Oil and Gas Resources||3.540||14.337||15.76|
|Geophysical Analysis of Energy Resources||0.278||1.126||1.31|
|Gulf Coast Petroleum Systems||1.783||7.221||10.47|
|Reserve Growth Assessment Project||0.000|
|New Petroleum Processes Research||1.159||4.694||5.98|
|Uranium Resources and Environmental Impacts||0.491||1.989||2.61|
|Processes Controlling Groundwater Quality in Uranium In-Situ Recovery Mining||0.019||0.077||0.12|
|Science and Decisions Center||0.985||3.989||6.12|
|Bureau/Mission Area Cost||1.007||4.078|
SOURCE: Email from M. Corum to S. Magsino, January 30, 2018.
internal program council. (4) It solicits ideas for seed projects directly from ERP researchers through an internal program. Projects are funded based on their scientific and technical merit, alignment with administration and program priorities, and, for existing projects, performance records. Approximately three-quarters of the resulting portfolio focuses on studies related to specific commodities and their environmental impact, while the remaining quarter deals with data management and outreach. Although the commodity studies include several different energy resources, more than half of the budget goes toward resource assessment, and the underlying geological, geophysical, and geochemical research needed to support those assessments.
The ERP portfolio includes a mix of legally mandated service products and opportunistic research products. Based on information garnered from the ERP website and publication search engines, the ERP’s 20 program areas produced more than 400 products between 2014 and 2017. Those products include data and databases, USGS fact sheets, reports, press releases, methodologies (e.g., assessment methodologies), U.S. and global assessments (recent focus on continuous [unconventional] resources), regional studies (e.g., Alaska, Gulf of Mexico), and scientific investigations (e.g., enhanced oil recovery [EOR], mantle gases, gas hydrates, geochemistry of mudrocks). Products are released as USGS internal publications and scientific journal articles. The proportion of products released as journal articles is increasing and now represents approximately 40% of the publications. Table 1.2 lists examples of the products, organized according to the major program headers on the ERP website. Products are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3.
TABLE 1.2 Recent examples of USGS ERP Products: 2014-2017
|National Oil and Gas Assessment||~60 USGS Fact Sheets on geologic assessments – recent emphasis on U.S. unconventional resources; USGS internal studies and published papers on specific resources (e.g. Bakken, Piceance Basin, Green River)|
|World Petroleum Assessment||Multiple USGS Fact Sheets for global resources, emphasis on continuous (unconventional) resources.|
|Unconventional Oil and Gas Studies||Coalbed gas, shale gas, hydraulic fracturing, gas hydrates, and oil shale field mapping reports, historical records, data analyses and analytical methods (e.g. produced waters), monitoring studies, and assessments|
|Reserves Growth||Bi-annual assessments for reserve growth in the United States and outside (2013 and 2015)|
|Economics||Topical publications: e.g. recovery factors for EOR, cost implications of uncertainty estimates, economic issues with long-term carbon capture and storage, development options for heavy oil and stranded gas in Alaska|
|Regional Studies||Recent focus areas include Alaska, U.S. Gulf Coast, Appalachian Basin, SW Wyoming and Colorado Plateau|
|Coal||Multiple assessments, coal database, organic petrology atlas, coal contaminants, regional studies (same as above plus Powder River Basin)|
|Gas Hydrates||Field reports, peer-reviewed publications, USGS Scientific Investigations and Digital data reports on gas hydrate resources on the North Slope of Alaska, South China Sea, offshore India, and the U.S. Gulf of Mexico|
|Geothermal||Peer-reviewed publications on geothermal systems in California|
|Oil Shale||Data Series additions, peer-reviewed publications, USGS Fact Sheets, on oil shale resources in the Western United States|
|Uranium||South Texas assessment, plus publications on water quality considerations, and baseline environmental analyses|
|Wind||Wind turbine map and database, energy impacts assessment methodology and onshore wind turbine locations|
|Environmental Aspects of Energy Production and Use||Topical studies on coal and produced waters, including trace elements in coal ash, atmospheric particulate matter near mountaintop coal mines, characterization and assessment methodologies for produced waters, and analysis of controlling factors|
|Geochemistry/Geophysics||NPRA Seismic database, geochemistry publications, geochemistry labs|
ERP Product Consumers and Project Collaborators
ERP product consumers are diverse but information about is not formally tracked by the ERP. Many ERP product consumers also collaborate with the ERP for mutual benefit. Consumers and collaborators include the Administration, Congress, DOI land and resource management bureaus, federal environmental and national security agencies, state geological surveys, the environmental community, the energy industry, and academia. Members of the general public are also ERP product consumers. Figure 1.3 is a slide excerpted from an ERP presentation to the committee that demonstrates the breadth of collaborators. ERP research and data are used to support, for example, policy related to domestic and foreign energy resources and management of those resources on federal lands.
This report is organized into six chapters, beginning with this introduction of the task and the current ERP landscape. Chapter 2 provides information about the global and U.S. energy outlook and categorizes geologically based energy resource challenges expected as a result of that outlook over the next 10-15 years. Chapter 3 describes how the ERP addresses current energy-related challenges through its portfolio and the ways that portfolio might be modified in the near future. Chapter 4 describes how well the ERP portfolio and
its products meet the information needs of the nation. It also describes approaches to research and product development that could be taken in the future by the ERP to stay well aligned with product consumer needs. Chapter 5 describes the committee’s conclusions regarding the priority research and products for the future, given the projected energy outlook. Chapter 6 presents a synthesis of the committee’s recommendations based on conclusions found throughout the report.