Frequently Asked Questions

Energy

The USGS conducts basic research on geologic energy resources including oil, gas, gas hydrates, geothermal, and coal.

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Image shows a drill core in a box with cardboard dividers
It is difficult to characterize one area as “the best” for carbon sequestration because the answer depends on the question – best for what? However, the area of the assessment with the most storage potential for carbon dioxide is the Coastal Plains region, which includes coastal basins from Texas to Georgia. That region accounts for 2,000 metric...
imaging from Mars
In 2013, the USGS released the first-ever comprehensive, nation-wide assessment of geologic carbon sequestration, which estimates a mean storage potential of 3,000 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide. The assessment is the first geologically-based, probabilistic assessment, with a range of 2,400 to 3,700 metric gigatons of potential carbon dioxide ...
Uncovering the Ecosystem Service Value of Carbon Sequestration in National Parks. Photo by Robert Crootof, NPS.
Geologic carbon sequestration is the process of storing carbon dioxide (CO2) in underground geologic formations. The CO2 is usually pressurized until it becomes a liquid, and then it is injected into porous rock formations in geologic basins. This method of carbon storage is also sometimes a part of enhanced oil recovery, otherwise known as...
Major Carbon Pools
Carbon dioxide is the most commonly produced greenhouse gas. Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is one method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the goal of reducing global climate change. The USGS is conducting assessments on two major types of carbon...
Wheat field wind turbines in Wyoming.
No publicly-available, national database of wind turbines existed prior to the creation of the USGS Windfarm mapper, which was replaced with the U.S. Wind Turbine Database (USWTDB) in 2018.  Knowing the location of individual turbines and their technical specifications creates new opportunities for research and improved siting and is important...
Image: Coal Burning Power Plant
The United States has the largest proven coal reserves, with an estimated 260.5 billion short tons of coal in 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Coal mine in the Powder River Basin
The biggest coal deposit by volume is the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, which the USGS estimated to have 1.07 trillion short tons of in-place coal resources, 162 billion short tons of recoverable coal resources, and 25 billion short tons of economic coal resources (also called reserves) in 2013.
Image shows a large black stone with a silver sign in front
Coal is a sedimentary rock made predominantly of carbon that can be burned for fuel. Coal is readily combustible, black or brownish-black, and has a composition that, including inherent moisture, consists of more than 50 percent by weight and more than 70 percent by volume of carbonaceous material. It is formed from plant remains that have been...
Emissions trading is one example of a market-based solution to an environmental problem. Image credit: Arnold Paul/Gralo via Wik
Coal is primarily used as fuel to generate electric power in the United States. The coal is burned and the heat given off is used to convert water into steam, which drives a turbine. In 2012, about 39 percent of all electricity in the United States was generated by coal-fired power plants, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration....
Image: Pliocene Lignite Coal from BEN Village
There are four major types (or “ranks”) of coal. Rank refers to steps in a slow, natural process called “coalification,” during which buried plant matter changes into an ever denser, drier, more carbon rich, and harder material. The four ranks are: Anthracite: The highest rank of coal. It is a hard, brittle, and black lustrous coal, often referred...
Image: Marcellus Shale Drill Rig
This question cannot be answered clearly because the methods used by those organizations to estimate resource volumes are not publically available to compare step-by-step. The USGS does not include previously discovered reserves in its estimates. It also does not include reserves that have already been produced. Nor does it include resources that...
Image: Marcellus Shale Drill Rig
The USGS publishes its oil and gas resource assessments on the Energy Resources Program web site as soon as they are completed, peer reviewed by scientists knowledgeable about the subject, and formatted for publication. Two geological reports on the Marcellus shale have been released and are available on the site. The USGS has no plans to reassess...