ISGS - State of the Survey 2006
A Momentous Year—2005 to 2006
December 8, 2006
By William W. Shilts, Chief
In a great many ways, the past year has been momentous for the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS). With the series of speakers and events associated with our Centennial Celebration, the retirement or resignation of several key staff members, and the involvement of the Survey in billions of dollars worth of energy projects, the Survey is a much different organization than it was when I addressed you in December of 2005.
Our Centennial speaker program brought several prominent scientists and authors to Champaign-Urbana, starting with Apollo 17 astronaut Dr. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, the only geologist and the last man to walk on the moon, who presented a well-attended public lecture about his lunar exploits last October. The final talk of the series was by noted author and geologist Simon Winchester, who spoke about his most recent book, A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, which describes the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and its aftermath; his public lecture was, coincidentally, given during the week of the 100th anniversary of that event. Between these two "bookend" lectures, we had New York author Kevin Krajick speaking about the quest for diamonds in the Canadian arctic, Dr. Pat Leahy, Director of the USGS and Dr. Scott Tinker, Director of the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology (Texas Survey) speaking about the future and promise of geological surveys, Penn State Professor Richard Alley speaking about the implications and causes of Global Warming, Harvard Professor Paul Hoffman speaking about his take on the late Precambrian "Snowball Earth" theories, Dr. Jim Franklin, former Chief Scientist of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), speaking about his pioneering deep submersible dives to "Black Smoker" vents on the deep sea floor, Steve Blasco, GSC oceanographer, speaking about his similarly pioneering deep submersible dives to the site of the Titanic wreck to film the IMAX movie of the site, and Dr. Robert Skinner, former Director General of the International Energy Agency's Policy and Planning Directorate, who joined our own Dr. Robert Finley to discuss the pressing issues associated with the global revolution in energy distribution that has taken place over the past few years. The Centennial speaker program contributed significantly to creating greater awareness in local and University communities of what the Survey is and of the breadth of earth science issues that we and our colleagues address.
The Survey has changed in other ways, too, since my address to you last December. With an unusually large number of retirements and resignations over the past year, we have been able to replace or are in the process of replacing departing employees in such a way as to reshape the capabilities of our staff to meet the burgeoning research demands that support development of new strategies for utilizing Illinois' Saudi-Arabia-sized energy resources in more efficient and environmentally benign ways. The result of this shifting of staff skills and priorities is that our research and service capabilities are more appropriate than before for responding to Illinois' modern energy challenges, while fulfilling our ongoing commitment to provide the geologic information critical for addressing environmental, transportation, and urban development issues. This adaptability ensures that the Survey, along with our companion Surveys, continues to constitute a unique and incredibly powerful tool for Illinois state government to provide the technical and scientific underpinnings required by modern businesses and government enterprises to aid them in decisions about where to locate their activities.
Nowhere was this more evident than in Illinois' success in attracting two potential FutureGen sites. During the past year, the ISGS provided the technical and scientific information that was essential for Illinois to be awarded, in competition with several other states, two of the four sites being considered for locating the billion-dollar, technologically advanced, emission-free, coal gasification research facility that will be built in Illinois or Texas. Funding for the project will come from the U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. DOE) and a consortium of U.S. and foreign energy companies, the latter group constituting the FutureGen Alliance. The Alliance will make the final decision about where the facility will be located, presumably based on the technical merits of the successful site. Because Illinois and Texas have the two largest and most energy-focused of the 50 state geological surveys in the United States and because those two Surveys provided the technical and scientific bases for the carbon sequestration process that is unique to FutureGen, it is not surprising that sites in these two states were chosen over several others.
With all the press coverage of our role in securing possible FutureGen sites, it would be easy to lose sight of the fact that we are involved in providing similar technical and scientific guidance on several billion dollars worth of other innovative, private sector energy projects. In fact, a significant amount of the inspiration that the Governor received in developing his well-publicized energy program, released in August, came in conversations with our own energy experts.
In recognition of the vital role we play in developing the State's energy strategies, the legislature, at the urging of our local state Representative, Naomi Jakobsson, increased our '07 budget by over half a million dollars to help us overcome potential obstacles to securing FutureGen and carbon sequestration funds. Tied to those resources were three additional energy-related head counts that somewhat offset the general trend toward fewer head counts throughout state government. Recently, at the urging of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Office of Management and Budget has authorized us to add three more head counts to bolster our energy program capabilities. Regardless of the various financial and personnel moves we have had to make to do our part to assist the Department and the State in responding to the tough financial constraints in state government, it is my opinion that our staff, as constituted after all these changes, is as dynamic and responsive to Illinois' demands and opportunities for economic development and environmental security as it has been at any time during the past 100 years.
In addition to providing the technical and scientific support for FutureGen, the ISGS has led the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium (MGSC), one of the seven carbon sequestration research partnerships funded by the U.S. DOE in North America. The presence of this multi-partner project in Illinois was a major reason that we were so successful with our FutureGen proposals. We have begun to implement the $18,000,000, Phase II part of this project over the past year. The goal of Phase II is to experiment with small injections of CO2 into deep saline aquifers, coal beds (to displace methane for natural gas production), and older oil reservoirs (to recover oil that is not producible by conventional means). It was announced at the end of October that the MGSC, led by the ISGS with support from the Indiana and Kentucky Geological Surveys, will receive, along with several of the other six North American sequestration partnerships, a $67,000,000 Phase III grant that we must match with $20,000,000 in state funds and other cost share. In Illinois, the 10-year Phase III project will be aimed at injecting up to 1,000,000 tons of CO2 into a deep, saline aquifer (such as the Mt. Simon Sandstone) for permanent geologic storage. Needless to say, with over $100,000,000 in energy grants and contracts to manage and with our critical role in the campaign to draw FutureGen to Illinois, the Energy researchers at the ISGS, led by Rob Finley, have their hands full, and the Survey, itself, has the serious challenge of attracting and retaining the scientists and support staff necessary to complete these projects successfully.
Because there is so much emphasis on the energy programs of the Survey in our present energy climate, it might be easy to overlook the considerable body of diverse research that is ongoing in other units.
Our three-dimensional geologic mapping program continues in full stride, and we have been making strategic hires and moves to improve our ability to remotely sense our shallow subsurface geology. Toward that end, I have initiated searches for two more geophysicists, one of whom will manage a new Applied Geophysics Section, removing it from its temporary home in the Chief's Office. To further support the subsurface mapping, we have accepted a large, Direct Mud Rotary drill from the Illinois State Water Survey and are rebuilding it to enhance our deep overburden drilling capabilities. I have also received permission to engage another professional driller to help operate the several varieties of drills we will have on inventory. The greatly enhanced shallow geophysics and drilling capabilities will make it possible to produce three-dimensional geologic maps more accurately, efficiently, and rapidly.
We are still working with our legislative supporters in Washington to bring federal dollars back to Illinois to allow us to expand this critical mapping initiative. With all the discussion about the viability of the state's underground water supplies and the ramping up of the ethanol and energy industries that will require significant amounts of water to sustain, it is even more critical than before that we map and understand the hidden geological units that hold, protect, and replenish these precious resources. We visited over 70 offices of the delegations of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio last winter to try to increase our funding for these critical mapping projects, and we will be making similar visits this February. In the meantime, I continue to direct $3-5 million of our state appropriation each year toward mapping our subsurface, and we work closely with counties, local consortia, such as the Mahomet Aquifer Consortium, the Governor's office, private companies, and our sister Surveys to address this daunting challenge in as short a time as possible.
Now I would like to share with you a few thoughts on the nature of this year's awards that will be presented following this talk. One of the awards goes to an individual who has meant a lot to the Survey, both internally and externally, and who will be going on to a new career in the near future. State Senator Rick Winkel, who has been a friend and supporter of the Scientific Surveys, both in his terms as a Representative and, most recently, as State Senator has worked to preserve and enhance our funding throughout my tenure here, and has worked hard to help us preserve the integrity of the Surveys. His efforts have brought us the funds that have allowed us to replace lost jobs in the Geological Survey and have provided the vastly improved facilities in the "I" Building, where our publications and Geologic Records Unit are located. Over the past four years, Senator Winkel has been steadfast in his support of the four Surveys' collective efforts to improve their abilities to serve the people of Illinois.
You will notice during the award presentations that there is no award for the outstanding team this year. Year after year in this address, I have stressed my conviction that the team approach to Geological Survey work is among the most effective ways to harness the diverse talents we have here to solve problems and to most effectively address research challenges. This year the awards committee approached me with their own problem! They had been given proposals for four team awards, each among the strongest I had seen in my 11 years here, and were having a problem settling on a single award, first because each team was dealing with the most important projects of the past decade, and secondly because the number of people actually contributing to the teams was so large that it would be difficult to make the award without overlooking somebody — a problem that has cropped up previously, particularly in the past few years. The teams originally suggested were the Centennial Steering Committee, the FutureGen team, the Orthoimagery Data Distribution Project team, and the Carbon Sequestration team. In discussing this problem with the awards committee, I realized that in some cases, half the Geological Survey staff was involved in the successful conclusion to the event or project and that the cross-discipline cooperation that led to these successes was exactly what I had been stressing as an operational goal over the past 11 years, both through these annual messages and through changes to the way we are organized (remember the "Blue and Orange" Groups?). I can't imagine a greater testimony to the power of working as teams at the Survey than the landing of two of the four FutureGen sites in Illinois, the $100 million dollars or so that we have attracted for Carbon Sequestration research, or the attendance, kudos, and large monetary donations that the Survey received as a result of our dozens of Centennial activities and publications. And the millions of hits on our web site that are generated by the Orthoimagery site are further testimony to that team's success. In short, teamwork has become our standard operating mode, and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of you — support staff, scientists and technical staff, and administrators on the accomplishments that you have achieved, in the face of and in spite of harsh economic realities, for the people and businesses of Illinois. To say that I am proud of what you have accomplished over the past year would be an understatement.
In recognition of your achievements over the past year and your unstinting dedication to the earth science needs of the people of Illinois, at some point next spring I will be hosting a Survey-wide event, probably a picnic, to thank you all for the incredible job you did in the face of significant operational challenges and personal financial difficulties.
In the Annual Report that I recently submitted to our Board of Natural Resources and Conservation, which will soon be available on our web site, you will find many details and highlights about all aspects of our program and our last year's activities. I am very optimistic about the future of the ISGS and about the increasingly important role we are playing in guiding our state, local, and private sector clients toward making sound decisions about economic development, transportation, and environmental security. Not since the 1930s, when the Survey grew and matured by guiding coal and oil exploration and development, has the ISGS been so well poised to jump to a higher level of activity and integration into the affairs of the state. Our employees, unlike those at many other major earth science institutions, are demographically well distributed, and the staff (more than 60% of whom have come here since I arrived) are, as ever, well-trained, eager to work, and very productive. We are fortunate to be one of the four Illinois Scientific Surveys, which continue to be resources unique to the state of Illinois, a public sector instrument unequalled in its capacity to carry out multidisciplinary scientific research seamlessly and on virtually all aspects of the state's needs for responsible economic development and environmental protection of its abundant natural resources.
Updated 05/06/2011 SLD