USGS identifier

Science Goals

Goal 3--Advance the understanding of the Nation's energy and mineral resources in a global geologic, economic, and environmental context

The United States is among the world's leading producers and consumers of energy and mineral resources, and the Nation's economic security depends on maintaining adequate supplies from various domestic and global sources. The Nation constantly faces decisions involving the supply and utilization of raw materials, substitution of one resource for another, competing uses for Federal lands, and the environmental consequences of resource development. The ability to make these decisions, whether in the public or private sector, requires current and accurate information on the origin and global distribution of energy and mineral resources, the economic factors influencing their development, and the environmental consequences of exploitation. The GD collects and provides this information through an integrated long-term program of research, assessments, and data gathering. The GD's Congressionally mandated role in comprehensive assessment of energy and mineral resources is unique within the Federal Government and the private sector and has recently been enhanced by the incorporation of the Minerals Information Team from the former U.S. Bureau of Mines.

Future scientific challenges for the GD involve (1) anticipating new and changing resource demands, such as the shift from coal and oil to natural gas, and technology-driven substitutions, such as the potential shift from lead to other metals in batteries; (2) developing new principles and concepts to increase scientific understanding of critical, high-value resources that are expected to have increased future demand; (3) formulating and (or) improving science-based assessment methods (including total-cost assessments); and (4) conducting global assessments of resources having substantial economic importance, such as oil and strategically important mineral commodities. The reliability and value of these assessments and related products are based on rigorous supporting geological, geochemical, and geophysical research and on the broad, objective, scientific perspective and expertise of the GD staff.


National, issue-specific, and total-cost assessments of the Nation's petroleum, coal, and selected metallic and industrial mineral resources.
These assessments will be conducted at the National, regional, and local scale, commonly in collaboration with a variety of partners (see "Working with Others"). Much of this effort will focus on Federal lands, offshore waters and other areas of critical national interest at the request of Federal and local land-management agencies. Rapid-response assessments will be conducted to support short-term policy decisions. Assessments will be tailored to meet customer needs and can involve qualitative or quantitative evaluation, compilation of existing data or collection of new information, and process-oriented investigations of resource origin, distribution, and environmental effects. Total-cost assessments, which evaluate the quantity and availability of resources, as well as the environmental and economic effects and benefits of their development, stem from an increased societal need to understand the potential effects of human activities and add a new dimension to this traditional GD effort.

Geological, geophysical, and geochemical maps, surveys, and syntheses of carefully selected geographic areas in support of resource assessments.
Examples of these areas include potentially important and (or) newly discovered mineral districts on Federal lands and in offshore regions that have been leased or are being considered for mining of aggregates or for hydrocarbon exploration and development.

Quantitative global assessments of oil and gas resources and selected high-value mineral resources.
These global assessments require considerable interaction and cooperation with foreign institutions and the private sector and are essential elements in the design of national economic and security policies.

Integrated life-cycle models of selected mineral and energy commodities.
These models describe global geologic occurrences, genetic processes, present and future uses, recycling potential, possible substitutions, disposal strategies, and associated environmental effects.

Strategic Actions

Evaluate national and global trends in energy and mineral resource use.
The GD will evaluate trends jointly with other technical groups and agencies, such as the State Department and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), as a means of prioritizing future resource investigations.

Focus geoscience field investigations on carefully selected geographic areas in support of national resource assessments.
The GD field investigations will include geologic mapping, geophysical and geochemical surveys, sedimentary basin analysis, mineral-deposit genesis, and environmental effects. The GD will develop and (or) use new principles, methods, and technologies to enhance the efficiency, resolution, and application of these field investigations.

Focus interdisciplinary research on the key geologic processes that control the origin and distribution of energy sources and mineral deposit types with present or anticipated high demand.
This GD research will reduce uncertainties in national and global resource assessments. For example, prediction and assessment of petroleum resources in producing fields will be improved through investigations of reservoir heterogeneity and other controls on field growth. Investigations of gas hydrates and other carefully selected unconventional energy resources, such as geothermal energy, will be conducted to help determine their future viability and importance to the Nation. For example, continuous-type natural gas resources are helping to meet growing national demand (see Highlight 8). Investigations of the tectonic, structural, hydrologic, and climatic controls of selected mineral deposit types will provide the scientific foundation needed for more comprehensive assessments and evaluations.

Develop quantitative total-cost assessment methods.
These methods will integrate current advances in mathematics and logic theory, economic factors in resource development, potential environmental effects of resource development, and environmental mitigation and remediation costs. The GD will develop comparable methods for assessing all energy resources so that the Nation's energy mix can be continuously tracked and evaluated.

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Last updated 04.08.98