energy industry is at a crossroads -- petroleum is in the rearview
mirror and a methane-based economy is squarely ahead.
this fundamental change in the energy mix mean for public policy,
the environment and earth sciences?
the answers to those questions rest with the U.S. Geological Survey.
think our role over the next 20 years will be identifying, assessing
and determining the availability of the world's remaining energy
resources," said Patrick Leahy, USGS associate director of geology.
said his agency's job is to "develop scenarios ... and try to understand
any environmental and economic affects that accompany those resources
in terms of their development," will be the keynote speaker at the
Energy Minerals Division luncheon Wednesday, April 21, at the Dallas
is titled "The USGS Role in Preparing for the Energy Mix of the
addressed an immediate concern:
there is no question that fossil fuels will be in our future for
a long time," Leahy said. "Although other sources are certainly
attractive, the demand for energy is very high and at least in the
short term -- the next 25 years -- we will be very dependent on
fossil fuels, particularly natural gas."
must be made -- and in the arena of resource assessment, global
studies will become increasingly important.
working to refine our global assessments," he said. "For example,
our results (from a 2000 global study) indicate that 25 percent
of the remaining endowment of oil occurs in the arctic -- not only
in the United States but in Norway, Russia and Canada. In the coming
years we will place a lot of emphasis on research and assessment
activities to refine those estimates, and what this heavy emphasis
on Arctic resources means from an environmental and economic standpoint."
global assessments will be driven by partnerships with other governments
to share and exchange data and methodologies.
I think there will be an increasing demand for clean, reliable and
affordable energy that will drive development of the nation's resources,"
he said. "As a result, the country's future energy supplies will
come increasingly from natural gas deposits."
that this drive will put new demands on federal lands -- and land
use issues (think the 1002 area of the Alaska National Wildlife
Refuge) will dominate the political arena in coming years.
will be charged with providing unbiased science so that policymakers
can make wise decisions based on the best available assessments
or knowledge of frontier energy sources," he said.
in a transition time when we should begin addressing and studying
resources outside the traditional fossil fuels," he continued. "If
you look at the energy mix historically, one thing is certain --
what we have used as fuels has changed over time, and it will change
in the future. We are witnessing that change today from oil to natural
gas. It is important that we begin to experiment with and study
additional energy alternatives for the future, be they gas hydrates,
nuclear or wind and assess how these sources will factor into the
overall energy mix of the 21st century.
is a key to understanding these energy sources," he said, "and that
is the direction the USGS must go."
assessment efforts likely will expand in coming years to resources
not currently on the radar screen, Leahy said. While fossil fuels
will remain the key element in the energy mix for years to come,
a growing percentage of the overall energy supply will come from
unconventional sources such as coalbed methane and gas hydrates.
also may include:
Liquefied natural gas.
decisions are based on economics, Leahy said, and if natural gas
prices remain high, LNG will be more competitive.
infrastructure will be necessary if we are to import LNG in any
significant way, but there are a number of plans on the drawing
board to expand that infrastructure," he said. "Big investments
will be necessary, but I do believe the economic climate is such
that LNG can compete in the global energy market. Plus, the growth
of LNG potential makes a comprehensive global assessment of natural
gas resources more critical than ever."
national geothermal energy assessment was published in 1979, he
said, but in today's economic climate investors are very anxious
to have a modern assessment of the resource base so they can make
intelligent decisions relative to investments in geothermal.
starting by looking at the Great Basin region to update our geothermal
assessment," he said. "This would be the first step in putting together
a modern geothermal assessment.
is changing the future impact of geothermal, just as it does with
oil and gas, so after 30 years we feel like a modern assessment
is absolutely critical to accurately assess this resource base."
he said, which provides about 18 percent of the electric power in
the United States today -- a figure that has held steady for some
wind energy -- another wildcard that Leahy acknowledged will
make up a small percentage of the future energy mix, but has some
energy policy legislation before Congress addresses this energy
source, making the Minerals Management Service responsible for licensing
energy projects in federal waters.
of the energy type,
environmental concerns are always an issue.
force behind decarbonization globally is concern over the greenhouse
effect," he said. "This effort will push activity associated with
techniques such as carbon sequestration and is driving interest
in both conventional and unconventional natural gas resources, which
are cleaner burning fuels. The USGS will likely be active in determining
geologic repositories for CO2," said Leahy.
endowment of coal,"
which still produces 50 percent of all U.S. electricity.