EMD: Down to the Crossroad

Luncheon Talks

The energy industry is at a crossroads — petroleum is in the rearview mirror and a methane-based economy is squarely ahead.

What will this fundamental change in the energy mix mean for public policy, the environment and earth sciences?

Many of the answers to those questions rest with the U.S. Geological Survey.

"I 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.

Leahy, who 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 Convention Center.

His talk is titled "The USGS Role in Preparing for the Energy Mix of the Future."

Leahy quickly addressed an immediate concern:

Please log in to read the full article

The energy industry is at a crossroads — petroleum is in the rearview mirror and a methane-based economy is squarely ahead.

What will this fundamental change in the energy mix mean for public policy, the environment and earth sciences?

Many of the answers to those questions rest with the U.S. Geological Survey.

"I 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.

Leahy, who 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 Convention Center.

His talk is titled "The USGS Role in Preparing for the Energy Mix of the Future."

Leahy quickly addressed an immediate concern:

"I think 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."

Still, studies must be made — and in the arena of resource assessment, global studies will become increasingly important.

"We are 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."

Refining global assessments will be driven by partnerships with other governments to share and exchange data and methodologies.

"Domestically, 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."

Leahy believes 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.

"The USGS 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.

"We are 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.

"Science is a key to understanding these energy sources," he said, "and that is the direction the USGS must go."

Possibilities

Resource 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.

Those sources also may include:

Liquefied natural gas.

Resource decisions are based on economics, Leahy said, and if natural gas prices remain high, LNG will be more competitive.

"Additional 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."

Geothermal energy.

The last 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.

"We are 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.

"Technology 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."

Nuclear energy.

A "wildcard," he said, which provides about 18 percent of the electric power in the United States today — a figure that has held steady for some time.

Offshore wind energy — another wildcard that Leahy acknowledged will make up a small percentage of the future energy mix, but has some growth potential.

The national energy policy legislation before Congress addresses this energy source, making the Minerals Management Service responsible for licensing energy projects in federal waters.

Regardless of the energy type , environmental concerns are always an issue.

"A driving 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.

"The endowment of coal," which still produces 50 percent of all U.S. electricity.
uwdsszeabzcbevcrtx