Usgs Energy Resources

The USGS studies distribution and quality of coal reserves.

The United States Geological Survey, or USGS, Energy Resources Program collects and disseminates research about geological sources of energy. These can include both conventional energy sources, or those sourced from fossil fuels, and non-conventional sources such as geothermal energy or natural bitumen (ref. 1). According to the USGS website, the program’s purpose is to advance the “understanding of geologic processes and the economic, technical, and environmental factors affecting energy resource occurrence, availability and recoverability.” Survey results are used to direct government energy policies and resource management.

Coal Research

The USGS has been researching coal for more than 100 years. As of 2010, coal resources supply more than half of the energy consumed in the U.S. (ref. 1). The USGS Energy Resources program concentrates research efforts in areas such as coal quality, quantity and availability of resources. With a recent push toward developing cleaner coal technologies, the USGS also focuses on issues such as coal’s impacts on ecosystems, the health and environmental impacts of coal mining and combustion. The USGS coordinates access to several databases that provide information about coal resources, location and quality.

Petroleum Research

The USGS maintains a comprehensive approach to research into petroleum products, including oil and natural gas. Research projects have the goal of “estimating resource volumes in conventional and unconventional (continuous) oil and natural gas accumulations, including coalbed methane and gas from low-permeability geologic units such as ‘tight gas sands’,” according to the USGS website. Research results are used to develop estimates, or assessments, of amounts of petroleum products that are recoverable using currently-available extraction technologies.

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The USGS operates three petroleum projects. The National Oil and Gas Assessment assesses the oil and natural gas reserves in the U.S. The World Petroleum Assessment’s goal is to quantify and evaluate global natural gas and oil reserves. The Alaskan Petroleum Studies project explores the “origin, habitat and abundance” of Alaska’s oil and gas reserves in order to develop accurate estimates (ref. 1).

Non-Conventional Energy Research

Though the USGS focuses on conventional, or fossil fuel-based, energy resources, the organization predicts a future shift toward non-conventional geological resources as the fossil fuel supply dwindles. Non-conventional energy resources can include gas hydrates, geo-thermal energy, heavy oil, natural bitumen, oil sands, oil shale, tar sands and uranium (ref. 1). Research in this area focuses on the geologic processes that influence the quality and distribution of non-conventional resources, according to the USGS.

Gas Hydrates Research

As of December, 2010, current research projects include studies into the endowment and recoverability of gas hydrates from Alaska’s North Slope, the Gulf of Mexico, India and Canada’s MacKenzie Delta. USGS defines gas hydrates as a “naturally-occurring, ‘ice-like’ combination of natural gas — usually methane — and water that has the potential to provide an immense resource of natural gas.” Gas hydrate reserves lie under continental shelves and underneath land in Arctic regions.