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The 3D Elevation Program and energy for the Nation

February 28, 2020

High-resolution light detection and ranging (lidar) data are used in energy infrastructure siting, design, permitting, construction, and monitoring to promote public safety through the reduction of risks. For example, lidar data are used to identify safe locations for energy infrastructure by analyzing terrain parameters and identifying and evaluating geologic hazards (for example, landslide and fault locations) and their potential public safety effects on the location or design of infrastructure. Increasingly, engineering companies and regulatory agencies are using lidar and other remote sensing techniques as an efficient method to collect accurate, comprehensive data while reducing risks to field personnel.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) is collecting lidar data nationwide (interferometric synthetic aperture radar [IfSAR] data in Alaska) to support a wide range of applications, including projects related to energy infrastructure construction and safety. Renewable energy resources, resource mining, and oil and gas resources were identified by the National Enhanced Elevation Assessment as business uses requiring three-dimensional (3D) elevation data.

Elevation data are critical in assessing potential sites for energy infrastructure, such as pipelines, refineries and other facilities, to mitigate risks from natural hazards. For example, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil, uses enhanced elevation data to conduct National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance assessments. The acquisition of high-resolution lidar data by the USGS 3DEP initiative helps the FERC and NEPA permit applicants by providing accurate and consistent data for hazards analysis. The use of these data accelerates the application and review process and avoids the much higher costs of acquiring elevation data along proposed energy facility locations and pipeline corridors.

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