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The Role of the Geoscientist in the U.S. Federal Government


Brenda Pierce, U.S. Geological Survey

The Federal Government and the oil and gas industry have distinctly different roles in the estimation of oil and gas resources and reserves.  The Federal Government needs to understand the resource endowment of the United States, as well as the world, in order to craft energy policy, determine the best course for the country in light of its resource base, and manage Federal resources.  Industry, on the other hand, determines oil and gas resources/reserves at a different scale (generally at the project level), in order to drill and develop the resource for a profit. The geoscientist working for a government entity may accordingly have a decidedly different perspective than one employed in the industry sector.  

Goals of the U.S. Department of the Interior include Protection of the Nation's Natural, Cultural, and Heritage Resources, and Management of Resources to Promote Responsible Use and Sustain a Dynamic Economy.  The three main bureaus responsible for mineral resource information include the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Minerals Management Service (MMS), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM):

 -  The USGS serves the Nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of  life and property from natural disaster; provide information for the management of energy, mineral, water, and biological resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.  The USGS, with no resource management or regulatory responsibilities, provides unbiased energy information and is often the sole provider of resource estimates of the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources of the U.S. onshore and State waters and the World, thus providing information on future potential reserves.  Energy forecasts by other organizations such as International Energy Agency and Energy Information Administration use USGS estimates as their base.  

 -  The MMS is responsible for the Federal resources of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, and issues permits for pre-lease exploration activities, evaluates resources and reserves, leases acreage, and regulates drilling and production activities in accordance with the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.  

 -  The core mission of the Oil and Gas Program of the BLM is to to encourage and regulate the exploration and development of Federal onshore oil and gas resources in accordance with the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, as amended.  

All three bureaus actively employ geoscientists to assist in their ability meet their varying responsibilities. The roles of these geoscientists may vary depending on the specific planned programs.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90098©2009 AAPG Education Department, Houston, Texas 9-11 September 2009