Several strengths of the Energy Resources Program’s (ERP’s) individual research and service activities emerged from the discussions with ERP staff and ERP product consumers. As the energy landscape has evolved and program budgets are increasingly constrained, the ERP has strived to maintain cutting-edge research programs in emerging areas (e.g., methane hydrates) while generating a large number of critical resource assessments and compiling or producing data to support those assessments. The ERP response to consumer demand for more rapid product dissemination has been an emphasis on easily distributed fact sheets, press releases, and web-based summaries of new and existing work (e.g., oil, gas, and coal assessment programs). As described in Chapter 3, the data and analyses contained in or supporting these products are critical for agencies, industry, and academic research, but full reports often are not available for many years after an assessment is completed, and data used in the assessments never may be made available if they are proprietary. These and other aspects of ERP products described in Chapter 3 can, at times, result in suboptimal alignment with stakeholder needs.
Flexibility and responsiveness to consumer needs and the changing energy landscape are needed on the part of the ERP to maintain an effective ERP portfolio. Strategic planning is required to balance program resources (that are increasingly limited) to produce timely energy assessments and to support delivery of shorter-term (e.g., months to 1-3 years) service products and longer-term (multiple years) research that better align with ERP product consumer needs. This chapter discusses ways the ERP might modify its portfolio to improve that alignment. Some of these strategies may involve changes in practices for prioritizing and managing the ERP portfolio. Discussion of specific management practices is outside the scope of this report. Discussion about the environment and input that will facilitate creation of the nimble culture of scientific excellence that meets the nation’s energy information is included. Much of this chapter, and the remainder of the report, revolves around the ERP role in compiling existing and generating new field and laboratory data; the timely release of ERP products; how the ERP might assist efficient and effective use of products; and how the ERP obtains stakeholder feedback so that it might quickly modify activity in response to that feedback. This chapter focuses on addressing the shorter-term needs and issues.
The ERP uses several internal U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) mechanisms to prioritize activities in its portfolio. There are no formal mechanisms to obtain feedback from product consumers as to how ERP information is used to make decisions. Data-tracking efforts are limited to counting website visitors, and the ERP could only provide anecdotal information about how its products are used. Both federal and nonfederal ERP product consumers that interacted with the committee suggested that they would value regular participation in ERP project identification and prioritization to improve product alignment with their needs. There was an expressed willingness to provide the ERP with data to inform metrics for characterizing how products are used as well as to help identify gaps or duplications in the current product portfolio.
The ERP might begin to quantify product use by, for example, tracking who is downloading data and analyzing information about website visitors, page views, etc. A next step could include collecting consumer information during download, perhaps via simple surveys of consumers about their intended use of the product. If those surveys are informative, the ERP might consult with experts about what more sophisticated tools ERP might use to track consumer use of products. Metrics and information collected from an active stakeholder base could be used not only to improve product delivery but also to advance research objectives. Providing a digital object identifier (doi) for each database produced by ERP researchers and compiling usage metrics might also provide a means to track accessibility of data in much the same manner that a doi for published literature is tracked. These are short-term steps the ERP might employ to identify those with whom the program might engage to help identify priorities, described further in Chapters 5 and 6.
Management and dissemination of data and products are a focus for both the ERP and the USGS, consistent with USGS policies for data management and release (USGS, 2018). To meet current near-term data objectives to deliver ERP science to the broadest possible audience in compliance with federal policies regarding open data access (e.g., Burwell et al., 2013), the ERP is developing program-wide data catalogs (seismic data, geographic information systems [GIS], and well data), implementing and enhancing web-delivery products, and creating an ERP-wide data management plan to support the data stewarded by each of the individual projects.
The ERP described to the committee the challenges it faces enhancing data and information management processes and tools, including the cost of source data, managing large volumes of information related to daily work flows, identifying optimum delivery tools, managing the cost and time involved in preserving data, understanding how consumers use ERP information, and staying abreast of technology changes. Currently, the ERP publication database is sufficiently diffuse that the committee was not able to capture the full spectrum of ERP publications. ERP staff, when requested by the committee, were unable to do so either. Chapter 3 describes some ERP product consumer concerns regarding ERP data and information management. Although the committee felt these were significant
enough to merit specific discussion in this report, the committee does not have the expertise to make specific recommendations regarding data and information management. The committee does provide conclusions regarding how ERP data products and management might better meet consumer needs.
Disseminating More Geoscience Data
The majority of ERP resources are devoted to the oil and gas research area and, correspondingly, the majority of ERP product consumers from whom the committee heard were from the oil and gas community. Much of the discussion with them, therefore, was focused on oil and gas products. Whereas this section of the report focuses on oil- and gas-related examples, many of the points raised are true for ERP products more broadly.
Consumers communicated two primary sentiments regarding ERP assessments that affect their abilities to determine assessment reliability: (1) the need for greater detail regarding the application of ERP assessment methodologies in specific assessments, and (2) the strong desire to access raw data to support the assessments. Given the emphasis on reproducible results in published scientific literature, it is important to provide raw and derived data with published ERP assessments so that others can test and therefore increase confidence in ERP results.
Without exception, the ERP consumers from whom the committee heard underlined the value of geoscience data to their organizations, including but not limited to seismic data, well log data and analyses, rock property data, rock/fluid geochemistry data, and subsurface temperature and pressure data. The consumers advocated for both (1) continued ERP stewardship of data that easily can be released for publication and retrieved for further analysis, and (2) consideration of new data types and products, particularly at the national scale. As an example, the recently released National Archive of Marine Seismic Surveys, stewarded by the USGS Pacific and Coastal Marine Center (Triezenberg et al., 2016),1 was cited several times as one of the most useful products recently made available publicly. This type of product is particularly valuable because seismic data are routinely used in evaluating subsurface natural resources, but normally they must be purchased at relatively high cost. The new release allows free and open access to seismic data, although not of the latest generation, that represent a valuable public resource for evaluating the subsurface.
Contract restrictions limit the distribution of proprietary well productivity data, however, and they are cited by the ERP as the reason why it does not provide input data with assessments. There may be means to satisfy consumer need for data while complying with contractual restrictions. For example, it may be feasible to publish aggregated data for assessment units (e.g., the spatial-temporal variability in productivity within each assessment unit could be valuable to consumers). Likewise, raw data and exact locations of specific wells from industry sources may be proprietary, but anonymized data might be made available. There are examples of federal agencies aggregating data and making
valuable information public: for instance, data provided in by the Department of Energy’s alternative fuels data center.2
Consumers also suggested that including data such as
- gross reservoir thickness;
- cross-correlations within basins;
- consistent unit tops;
- time periods of production data used for assessments; and
- pressure, volume, and temperature (PVT) data for subsurface oils, gases, and condensates, which are required to characterize the physical properties and producibility of those fluids
would make data releases more useful. ERP consumers also indicated that maps of the various geologic attributes (e.g., porosity, water saturation, thickness, PVT data) used in the assessments and production histories for assessment units, as described in Charpentier and Cook (2010), would be valuable.
Accessibility of Data
ERP data may be accessed from several locations on the ERP website. The “USGS Energy Data Finder” web data portal,3 accessed from the ERP home page, includes GIS files for assessment areas, tabular data from published reports, and associated geologic data, where available (e.g., core data, well logs, seismic data, and geochemical data). A map viewer portal (“EnergyVision”)4 provides access to interactive maps of U.S. exploration and production through 2006, shale gas in 2012, geothermal potential, wind turbines, and coal. Archival databases and interactive maps for specific projects (e.g., related to produced water and resource geochemistry) are accessed through the individual project subheaders found on the bottom of the map viewer portal webpage.5 To validate ERP product consumer comments related to the ease of accessing the ERP data, the committee conducted its own (albeit unscientific) test searches, one of which was for organic geochemistry data—a key asset for ERP data and analytical capabilities (see Box 4.1). The search demonstrated the large number of analyses results made available to the public but also provided some insights regarding difficulty with data access. Consumers cited formats provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) as being more accessible and user-friendly.6 ERP staff have indicated that a major ERP website revision
5 For example, data related to produced waters can be accessed using the following link: https://energy.usgs.gov/EnvironmentalAspects/EnvironmentalAspectsofEnergyProductionandUse/ProducedWaters.aspx#3822349-data.
is under way, intended to facilitate near-term improvement in data accessibility. Some of the issues related to the difficulty in finding data may be short-lived, but the committee could not ascertain the extent to which this may be true.
Other data dissemination practices were suggested by ERP product consumers, including:
- substituting published, appropriately credited state geological survey data for non-publishable data. This approach may yield consistent assessment results and avoid issues associated with proprietary commercial data;
- releasing computer-generated basin models and petroleum systems analyses used in assessments that can be worked with and modified by researchers;
- turning other legacy data sets into more easily accessible information (e.g., core and geophysical well log data);
- determining the ERP role in developing digital links between ERP databases and other national databases; and
- creating doi for data, as well as published results, to increase data discoverability and to give credit to authors.
It is apparent from discussions with consumers that ERP analytical capabilities to generate data, databases, and products for using those data (e.g., mapping applications) represent a valuable and unique currency for the ERP. As such, the committee suggests
that further exploration of these topics is warranted and that exploration is best done by the ERP, its stakeholders, and information technology experts external to the ERP.
Recent studies indicate that current assessment methodologies do not fully account for complex geology, but rely on expert judgment regarding dependencies of uncertain geologic variables (e.g., Schmoker and Klett, 2005). In addition, current methodologies do not vary recovery factors (i.e., the amount of hydrocarbon that can be recovered) through time, largely because the influence of small-scale geologic heterogeneities, price variations, and technology improvements are still understood poorly. The result is uncertainty related to the resource within individual assessment units and, ultimately, the U.S. national endowment (e.g., Montgomery and O’Sullivan, 2017; Kauffman, 2018). In fact, uncertainties are sufficiently large that they affect assessments by other agencies. For example, the EIA either underestimates the 2017 growth in shale oil output by 300,000 barrels/day or overestimates it by more than 200,000 barrels/day (Lee, 2017). The lack of certainty surrounding the variables used in assessment methodologies suggests better methodologies are warranted that provide more reliable estimates of economically recoverable resources.
Published studies external to the ERP have attempted to address uncertainties through (1) statistical methods for handling geologic heterogeneities (e.g., simple grid approaches, versus regression-kriging, and spatial error models [e.g., McGlade et al. 2013; Ikonnikova et al. 2015]); (2) petrophysics-based approaches for estimating rock properties (e.g., Fu et al., 2015; Hammes et al., 2016); (3) understanding the impacts of various technology innovation scenarios (e.g., Weijermars, 2015; Ikonnikova et al., 2016); (4) understanding the role of production costs (e.g., Hilaire et al., 2015; Ikonnikova and Gülen, 2015); and (5) determining the effects of potential resources that are not included in the assessed resource endowment (e.g., residual oil zones [ROZs] that might be produced in conjunction with CO2 sequestration, such as published by Jamali and others ). These studies represent a small sampling of recent literature on efforts to update assessment methodologies, which suggests that the data and data types agencies need for decision making are evolving beyond the methodologies employed now by the ERP.
Science funding has traditionally supported specialist disciplines within individual science-mission agencies, leading to the rise of research executed within conventional disciplinary boundaries. Accordingly, the ERP analyzes most geologic energy resources independently (e.g., uranium and geothermal resources typically are evaluated independently of oil and gas resources). This has served the nation, but it will be increasingly important to make decisions about the nation’s energy needs with an integrated understanding of all the resources in a given region and the combined impacts of their development. Decision making will be more strategic when it includes a thorough
understanding of all the commodities in a region as well as the short- and long-term impacts of resource development on human and environmental health and the economy.
Both the scientific and the commercial business literature now contain examples of innovation that occurs with the recognition of the connections between seemingly unrelated questions, problems, and ideas from different fields (e.g., Pink, 2006; Dyer et al., 2009; Sharp and Langer, 2011). Solving energy challenges in the highly complex and integrated systems that make up the Earth’s subsurface is beyond the capacity of any single technology and so benefits from interdisciplinary approaches. Interdisciplinary approaches have called on individual specialists to provide their unique skills to advance the solution to a given problem, and there is now even the opportunity to integrate expertise to create new disciplines (e.g., Sharp and Langer, 2011).
Integrated approaches to assessments may allow understanding by analysts of the trade-offs of applying different energy decision alternatives. For example, it may be possible for an analyst to discern if the development of one commodity (or even reservoir) in the near term precludes productive or responsible future development of another. An integrated perspective could also inform decisions about the short- and long-term research and technology development needs, energy storage options, and water resource needs and use impacts.
The benefits of integrated approaches already have been recognized by the ERP, but applied to a lesser extent than recommended in this report. The ERP began to compile more comprehensive inventories of geologic energy resources within a specific region when the program could partner with agencies in that region. For example, the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI) funded the ERP to develop integrated energy maps for southwestern Wyoming. This effort was to support of WLCI’s efforts to conserve wildlife resources while facilitating responsible energy development (Biewick and Jones, 2012; Biewick et al., 2013; Biewick and Wilson, 2014). The resulting reports compiled downloadable data and interactive maps of oil and gas wells, coal resources, geothermal favorability, and mineral ownership into a single GIS project. The emphasis of those efforts was on data organization rather than analysis; they focused on historical trends in energy production relative to landscape evolution rather than the geologic underpinnings of the energy resources. Nonetheless, the reports represent a first step in thinking about energy resources from a multi-commodity perspective. They might serve as a preliminary template for future efforts to incorporate full lifecycle approaches in geologic energy resource evaluation.
The draft Department of the Interior strategic plan for 2018-20227 recognizes continuous (unconventional) oil and gas resources in the United States as the significant emergent resource in global oil and gas supply. Development of those resources carries benefits, but also substantial challenges and risks (e.g., ExxonMobil, 2014). There is an emerging effort to characterize continuous resources as complex, interconnected systems in which development decisions have to consider not only the volume of the resource but also the local energy infrastructure, including transport, surface storage, and commodity markets; the environmental impacts, including related sand and water supply, produced water disposal or recycling, and the potential for induced seismicity; the possibility for
short- and long-term natural gas storage in the subsurface; and potential technological advances that could both maximize efficiency and minimize the spatial and environmental footprint of production operations. The ERP, however, still addresses these topics separately within its portfolio.
As an example, Box 4.2 briefly describes the remaining resource estimated to be in the Permian Basin in West Texas as well as some of the supply and environmental issues associated with continued development. The oil and gas assessment could have been accomplished with methodologies already used by the ERP. The ERP recently published detailed assessments of in-place resources for the Spraberry and Wolfcamp Formations within the broader Permian Basin province (Gaswirth, 2017; Marra, 2017; Marra et al., 2017) and began collecting data on produced waters. A systems approach to analysis of the subsurface framework might be applied with this information. The ERP, in partnership with developers and research organizations, could investigate the management of underground fluids in a specific region within the Permian Basin, including produced waters, storage capacity of disposal intervals, subsurface pressure monitoring, and proactive minimization of hazards such as induced seismicity.
Related to the Permian Basin or elsewhere, the ERP could contribute to decision making on broader scales for more stakeholders by also identifying subsurface structures with characteristics suitable for, say, carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration and for energy storage in general (e.g., compressed air). There may be near-term opportunities to leverage existing studies and to expand these studies into a full-systems analysis and synthesis of one or more U.S. basins with large continuous (unconventional) oil and gas accumulations. Initial versions of these studies could serve as prototypes for longer-term research efforts in subsurface energy management and would constitute an example of an integrated approach that could increase the relevance of the ERP portfolio.
The ERP might consider and prioritize which new data and methods are most important to incorporate into their systems-based resource assessments and determine the research paths that might be the most fruitful in the near term. Prioritizing the components of such efforts would benefit from increased input from consumers; stakeholder engagement could help the ERP determine the extent to which its user community requires new approaches and might serve to mobilize support for new ERP research initiatives.
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