American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

AGI Testimony: DOE Comprehensive National Energy Strategy

Testimony by
Dr. Marcus Milling, Executive Director
of the American Geological Institute to the
Department of Energy on the
Draft Comprehensive National Energy Strategy
Department of Energy Headquarters
Washington, DC
February 19, 1998

Mr. Secretary:

Good afternoon. I am Dr. Marcus Milling, executive director of the American Geological Institute (AGI). I appreciate this opportunity to present testimony on the draft Comprehensive National Energy Strategy being prepared by the Department of Energy.

AGI is a nonprofit federation of 31 geoscientific and professional associations that represent more than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. In addition, 115 colleges and universities are AGI Academic Associates, and 30 private companies are AGI Corporate Members. Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice for shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in mankind's use of resources and interaction with the environment.

Energy policy is very important to the geoscience community, particularly as it pertains to fossil energy. But geoscientists are also integral to the development of geothermal and hydroelectric resources as well as the disposal of the byproducts of nuclea r energy. The nation’s energy policy affects not only those geoscientists employed in petroleum and coal exploration, but also those involved in environmental remediation, those studying climate variability, and many others conducting both fundamental an d applied research into Earth processes.

Of the five proposed Energy Strategy Goals, I would like to focus my comments on the second one -- Ensure against energy disruptions -- although the activities discussed here will have a positive impact on several other goals as well. The current deploym ent of America’s armed forces to the Persian Gulf region is yet another reminder of our dependence on foreign sources for over 50 percent of our oil consumption. Although international oil prices have insulated public sentiment from this concern, this hig h level of imports is nonetheless a very real problem that can only be confronted through efforts to improve the downstream efficiency of fossil energy use and to increase upstream domestic production of these resources.

The Importance of Fossil Energy R&D

Continued research on fossil energy is critical to America's future. The societal benefits of fossil energy R&D extend to such areas as economic and national security, job creation, capital investment, and reduction of the trade deficit. The nation will remain dependent on petroleum as its principal transportation fuel for the foreseeable future, and it is critical that domestic production not be allowed to prematurely decline at a time when tremendous advances are being made in improving the technology with which these resources are extracted.

The federal investment in energy R&D is particularly important when it comes to longer-range research with broad benefits. In today's competitive markets, the private sector focuses dwindling research dollars on shorter-term results in highly applied area s such as technical services. According to Energy Information Administration analysis, the major oil and gas companies have sharply curtailed their research in recent years, for example a decrease of over 17 percent in constant dollars between 1989 and 1 993 from $811 million to $671 million. In that same time period, private-sector support for long-term basic and applied research (with a time horizon of 7 years or greater) dropped over 30 percent from $260 million to $180 million. In this context, DOE' s support of fossil energy research is very significant both in magnitude and impact compared to that done in the private sector. Without it, we risk losing our technological edge with this global commodity.

DOE's Fossil Energy R&D program is making a significant contribution to development of new technologies required for cost-effective, efficient development of U.S. oil and gas resources. The federal money spent on these programs goes to support laboratori es and improve information dissemination. This money does not go into corporate coffers, but it helps American businesses stay in business by giving them a technological edge over their foreign competitors.

Technology transfer is one important role for DOE. The historic symbiotic relationship between major oil companies and independent producers has largely disappeared, and independent producers do not have access to existing and emerging advanced explorati on, reservoir management, and production technologies. AGI supports DOE's efforts to accelerate the dissemination of these technologies through the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council (PTTC) and other mechanisms so that more domestic petroleum can be p roduced, and fewer producing fields are abandoned.

Another important DOE program that is contributing to the sustainability of domestic production is the Reservoir Class Field Demonstration Program, which is designed to decrease the rate of abandonment of marginal oil wells and fields, a key challenge to maintaining domestic production. In a 1996 report, a National Research Council panel concluded "that the Reservoir Class Program is demonstrating advanced and conventional technologies that have the potential to prolong the lives of marginal oil fields."

Geoscience Data Preservation Supports Energy Goals

Since 1994, the DOE Oil Technology program has supported AGI’s efforts to design and build a National Geoscience Data Repository System (NGDRS), which will enable us as a nation to preserve vast quantities of valuable geoscientific data critical to our un derstanding of the Earth’s environment and natural resources. This project was initiated in response to the fact that billions of dollars worth of domestic geoscience data are in jeopardy of being irrevocably lost or destroyed as a consequence of the ongo ing downsizing of the US energy and minerals industry. Preservation and access to domestic geological and geophysical data are critical to the energy security and economic prosperity of our nation. There is a narrow window of opportunity to act before val uable data are destroyed. The data truly represent a national treasure, and immediate steps must be taken to assure their preservation.

The NGDRS will serve as an important and valuable source of information for the entire nation for a variety of applications, including environmental protection, water resource management, global change studies, and basic and applied research into Earth pr ocesses. The critical data contained in the repository system will also enable domestic energy and minerals companies to enhance their exploration and production programs in the US for improved recovery of domestic oil, gas, and mineral resources.

The NGDRS project is highlighted in the recently released Oil and Gas R&D Programs report developed by the DOE Office of Natural Gas and Petroleum Technology. The report describes the current R&D programs and provides a roadmap for future oil and gas tech nology development by DOE. That report states a near-term goal, by 2000, of “complete integration of a national network of geoscience data repositories, assuring industry access to more than 2 million record sets of information and welllbore samples that would otherwise be lost.”

The NGDRS effort has been endorsed by the Association of American State Geologists, the American Petroleum Institute’s Exploration Affairs Committee, the Minerals Management Service’s Outer Continental Shelf Policy Committee, the American Association of P etroleum Geologists, the American Institute of Professional Geologists, the Geological Society of America, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, and the S ociety of Independent Professional Earth Scientists. In 1996, the National Research Council released a report entitled The Dynamics of Sedimentary Basins that described the NGDRS project and recommended “continued funding for efforts to preserve, archive , and disseminate data on sedimentary basins,” adding that such data, if preserved, “will sustain continued advances in basin research for many years.”

The President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology released a report last November on the future of energy research and development, the findings of which I trust are being taken into consideration by the Secretary in developing DOE’s energy policy plan. That report states: “DOE has the opportunity to create and maintain a National Geoscience Data Repository System to archive well logs and other data currently at risk of being discarded or destroyed by industry. This effort, through the Amer ican Geological Institute and the geoscience societies, to preserve important scientific data and complementary efforts to archive core specimens will contribute significantly to increased understanding from and use of a very large base of well-drilling e xperience.” The report goes on to recommend that DOE’s Fossil Energy program, “with the American Geological Institute, the geoscience societies, and the [U.S. Geological Survey], should ensure adequate archiving of drilling records and core samples, which are at risk of being discarded or destroyed.”

Addressing Forum Discussion Topics

One of the issues to be addressed by the Comprehensive National Energy Strategy is what the principal roles of government in addressing energy production and use should be. A principal federal responsibility is to maintain and provide access to fundamenta l data, whether it is about resources or other aspects of our planet. The DOE’s support for the NGDRS meets that responsibility by making data from previous domestic production available to the public for a wide range of uses, including further exploratio n by independent producers, environmental remediation, and fundamental research.

Another issue to be addressed is how the US can ensure that the economic and environmental benefits of energy policies be shared equitably. Here again, the NGDRS -- because it is a public-domain repository system -- will allow access to critical data that they need to make well-informed decisions, whether they be about future prospects to sustain domestic production, well-designed remediation efforts that save taxpayer dollars, or advances in our understanding of the Earth and its systems.

Data preservation and archiving are not the kind of short-term, high rate of return activities that the private sector operating in competitive markets can afford to undertake. And that is precisely why it is so critical that the federal government -- in partnership with states, universities, and the private sector -- shoulders this responsibility. By doing so, DOE can establish important partnerships with a variety of stakeholders both in the public and private sector.

I appreciate this opportunity to present testimony to the Department, and I would be pleased to answer any questions or to provide additional information for the record.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted March 3, 1998

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