US Geological Survey moots National Data Repository

Energy Resources Program report highlights lack of ‘single source of consistent, national-scale geologic data’.

Future directions for the US Geological Survey’s Energy Resources Program (ERP) are described in a new 168 page publication*. The ERP portfolio covers both domestic and international estimates of technically recoverable oil, natural gas and other geologically-based resources.

According to the USGS, ‘oil and gas will remain important parts of the US energy mix over the next 10-15 years’ and the US will continue to need ‘independent, unbiased assessments’ of domestic and international oil and gas inventories to inform policymakers. Looking forward, the ERP is to increase the transparency of its assessments by releasing more raw and intermediate data products. In addition, new technology will be deployed to ensure that assessments can be updated as new information and analyses become available. These include data analytics to speed evaluation in the face of changing geologic and financial data. In particular, the pace of development of unconventional oil and gas means that the ERP needs the capacity to quickly publish updates to its assessments. Current ERP reporting strategies make this difficult.

Data management and custodianship are to grow in importance as more data are collected and the impacts of complex energy-related decisions need to be evaluated. The ERP maintains geologic energy resource-related databases of rock and fluid geochemistry analyses from sedimentary basins and geologic provinces within the US and the world. These are the only publicly accessible, national-scale archives for such data. However, the ERP product line could better inform decision making by including more resource assessment input data and data related to the environmental impacts of resource development. Another target for improvement is improving access to existing data for instance by digitizing core and log data. Additional challenges arise from database design, data migration and loading and incorporating proprietary data sets.

The ERP Future Directions moots the establishment of a US National geoscience data repository. While recognizing that this would be a ‘formidable task’ requiring substantial investments, the authors believe that advanced data science and analytics are ‘beginning to transform the ways in which organizations collect, analyze, and manage their data’. New tools for managing and evaluating data would enhance the ability of the ERP to address these challenges. Exploring these possibilities will be undertaken with input from product consumers and external experts in data information and management.

Currently, the US lacks a single source of consistent, national-scale, publicly available geologic data to support resource development, policy and regulation. Data is currently inconsistent and scattered across federal and state agencies and the private sector. While the ERP currently maintains some databases, stakeholders do not consider these as meeting their needs. Expanding ERP efforts to become the recognized public source of comprehensive information would be consistent with the ERP mission to provide reliable and impartial scientific information on geologic energy resources. The long-term goal (10-15 years) is to expand current data compilation, archiving, and dissemination practices and establish the ERP as the national custodian and disseminator of energy-related geoscience data for the United States.

* Future Directions for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Energy Resources Program. A ‘consensus study’ from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine/National Academies Press.

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