As the William L. Fisher American Geological Institute Congressional Science Fellow, I’ve realized how important it is to have the input of scientific experts when making new policies on energy and natural resources.
In the past nine months I've had the great fortune of working on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee under Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the committee chairman. During my time with the committee, I've spent many hours working with other Senate staffers on a variety of topics, most of which are geologic in nature.
My main observation here is that there are many very motivated, intelligent staffers with a strong desire to make good policy. That said, there is a strong need for geologists, or scientists in general, to reach out to their congressman (or woman) and their staff to assist them in making good policy decisions, particularly in those areas that geologists play a critical role -- energy and environment.
When I first came to the committee last fall I really had no idea what to expect from this Fellowship, much less the job and how Congress really works.
I had a vague idea that Congress had been tackling some important energy issues, such as climate change, foreign oil dependency, etc., but did not appreciate the speed at which Congress would take on these topics in the 110th Congress.
I had the impression that lawmakers and their staff did not work the long hours that taxpayers would like them to. I had also heard that many of the staff are very young, inexperienced and disinterested in making sound policy decisions.
On all those issues, I couldn't have been more incorrect.
During my first three months of the Fellowship I was given liberal time to get up to speed on important policy, such as biofuels, gas flaring/venting reduction, geothermal energy and carbon capture and storage. During that time, I spent many hours contacting scientists in various related fields of expertise relevant to my policy portfolio.
It wasn't until January that I really began to appreciate the long hours the average staffer and congressman work, as well as the broad range of topics that staff are expected to know at a moment’s notice.
There is very little time when Congress is in session to reach out to every interest group that is impacted by each policy decision. This is where I have really appreciated those groups and individuals who have contacted me with respect to my policy portfolio.
While there are many private interest groups that come to visit Senate staffers on a daily basis, there is a large need for more scientists to reach out and help congressional staff make sound policy decisions.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many important energy and environmentally related issues under scrutiny by Congress this year. I happen to be working on one such topic; carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).
I am sure that most EXPLORER readers know that carbon dioxide (CO2) storage has been occurring in the oil patch for the past 20+ years in the form of enhanced oil recovery (EOR). While it has never been good for business to “lose” carbon dioxide to the formation (as that means an oilfield operator will have to buy more CO2for the EOR operation), that perception is starting to change. Oilfield operators may get a break from the negative publicity, as they can promote EOR by showing that CO2is sequestered during the operation.
This is an important time for companies undertaking EOR operations, as many members of Congress are tackling the issue of geologic carbon sequestration as a viable option for reducing CO2emissions to the atmosphere. They look to EOR as the most immediate “low hanging fruit” option for carbon storage, in addition to increasing domestic oil production. CO2sequestration in depleted oilfields is only one portion of the geologic storage solution -- policymakers are actively trying to learn more about saline formation storage capacity and using unminable coal seams for long-term geologic storage.
In the next several months important legislation related to CCS will be developed, introduced, debated and voted on. Already several pieces of CCS legislation have been developed both in the House and Senate.
Surprisingly this is a very non-partisan issue, with broad support for CCS from both major political parties.
Additionally, both chambers are working together to expedite CCS legislation. I would expect to see many more bills introduced, including those that take on:
- CCS oversight.
- Regulatory framework.
- Storage liability.
- Defining who owns the pore space.
- CO2as a commodity vs. a waste.
These policies are intended to set the stage for large-scale carbon storage projects in the next 10-plus years, thus it is critical that policy makers hear from geoscientists on the topic immediately.
This topic is just getting started, so there is no better time than now to reach out to your congressman with your scientific expertise.
Policy does impact science, so scientists should make every effort to positively influence science-based policy decisions.