GSA Position Statement:
Role of Government in Mineral and Energy Resources Research
Sound scientific knowledge should guide decision making about the exploration, development, and stewardship of finite energy and mineral resources. Sustaining and enhancing that knowledge requires more public investment in energy and mineral resource research, education, and stewardship.
This position statement recognizes the essential role of government in conducting and supporting research that contributes to (1) developing secure mineral and energy supplies for a resilient society; (2) developing strategies to increase conservation of mineral and energy resources through renewable energy, recycling, and resource substitution; (3) promoting evidence-based mineral and energy policies through assessments of mineral and energy resources including the environmental impacts from their extraction and use; and (4) enhancing public awareness of mineral and energy resource issues.
Conclusions and Recommendations
GSA recommends increased public investments and public‐private partnerships to improve our understanding of mineral and energy resources and to support programs for renewable energy resources, energy efficiency, and mineral resource recycling.
- Public investments—Increased funding by federal and state governments to science-mission agencies and academic institutions is essential to (1) advancing knowledge of energy and mineral deposit-forming processes; (2) improving exploration for new resources to replace depleted ones; (3) identifying new mineral resources for evolving technology and societal needs; (4) evaluating global biogeochemical and biodiversity impacts of resource material extraction, use, recycling, disposal, and dispersal; and (5) designing advanced technologies to increase the efficiency and reduce the risks of locating and extracting resources, and mitigating environmental impacts of resource extraction and use.
- Resource Assessments—Federal, tribal, state, and provincial governments should support non-proprietary mineral and energy resource assessments and related land management needs; collection and preservation of physical samples and related geochemical and geophysical data; and development of new knowledge about possible future resources by federal, state, and provincial surveys. Geoscientists and decision makers should evaluate existing and prospective mineral and energy resources from both “full-lifecycle” and “full-systems” perspectives considering all economic, environmental, and social impacts of their development and use.
- Enhanced partnerships—Government, industry, private foundation, and academic partnerships, including federal, state/provincial, and international collaborations, are encouraged in order to foster new technology developments and enhance understanding of the formation of the range of global deposits and commodity substitutes.
- Education—Government-supported mineral- and energy‐resource education programs are essential to generating new knowledge. These endeavors also educate the general public and prepare the future Earth and environmental scientific and engineering workforce.
- Renewables and resource recycling—Governments should provide funding and economic incentives to increase the use of renewable energy resources, improve energy efficiency, increase mineral resource recycling, and identify recoverable resources from extraction and utilization waste.
Economic prosperity, societal well-being, and national security require a safe and reliable supply of energy and mineral resources. Currently, global production of most non‐renewable energy and mineral resources (e.g., iron, copper, coal, petroleum) is at or near all‐time highs, and with a growing population, accelerating industrialization, and improving standards of living in many parts of the world, global demand for energy and mineral resources will increase in the future.
Historically, the government’s role (governmental agencies, policy and planning bodies) in identifying and assessing energy and mineral resources has been crucial in order to identify assets, improve long‐term planning, and avoid unforeseen resource shortages due to demand, conflict, natural disasters and extreme events, and market fluctuation and manipulation. For example, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS, within the Department of the Interior [DOI]) was founded by Congress in 1879 for the "classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain."  Besides mapping and fundamental resource research, the USGS publishes assessments of undiscovered onshore mineral and fossil fuel resources, while the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (DOI) completes offshore assessments. Now, other agencies in DOI plus Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Environmental Protection Agency also have programs that address aspects of resource evaluation; the lifecycles of energy/mineral products from mining through processing, use, and disposal; and surface and subsurface land-use issues at extraction sites. Additionally, state/provincial geologic surveys and environmental agencies are important archives of detailed regional current and historic data, including physical samples, that support ongoing research in the public interest. All these government agencies possess the broad perspectives for sound holistic evaluation of potential costs, benefits, and consequences associated with the extraction and use of mineral and energy resources that are required to develop sound public policies.
However, energy and mineral resource programs of government agencies require constant reevaluation with the evolving material needs of society. Resource challenges associated with changing and advancing 21st-century technology needs and substitution of renewable and alternative energy resources require an expanding suite of minerals and chemical elements complicated by the irregular global distribution of vital mineral and energy resources and associated international trade and market economics. [2-4]
Geoscientists and engineering geologists, from government, academia, and industry, can provide the sound scientific foundation for effective mineral and energy resource decision making. Expert knowledge on location and extent of present and possible future resources, geological processes that formed and concentrated them, and the technological needs and environmental effects of their extraction and use at local, regional, and global scales is essential for informed discussions about:
- Resource exploration and production; climate and environmental consequences (land, water, atmosphere); reclamation;
- Applied and fundamental research, resource assessment, and analysis of future supply and demand;
- Identification of alternative and renewable supplies; recovery and recycling of materials from utilization waste products; 
- Regulatory compliance and waste disposal throughout the lifecycles of energy and mineral products; and
- Management and stewardship of public and private lands, including post‐production reclamation and monitoring.
Qualified geoscientists are necessary for federal, tribal, state, and provincial governmental agencies to fulfill their missions as stewards of the land and its natural resources. In addition, private industry needs scientists for informed and responsible exploration, production, and remediation. Government scientific funding agencies, such as the U.S. National Science Foundation, support scientist training and university science education through research grants and student fellowships, while state-supported university budgets fund geoscience and other science programs. Importantly, pre-university education grants support Earth-science education in schools and science centers, and are essential in order to develop a broad consumer/citizen appreciation of relevant geologic issues and support for sound public policy.
Adopted October 2008; revised April 2011, May 2016; November 2020.
Opportunities for GSA and its Members to Help Implement Recommendations
To facilitate implementation of the goals of this Position Statement, the Geological Society of America recommends that its members:
- Actively discuss with decision makers the role of government in mineral and energy resources research. To improve the technical basis for decision-making, geoscientists should clearly discuss: (1) the value of the geosciences in stewardship of public lands; (2) the abundance, accessibility and geographic distribution of energy and mineral resources; and (3) potential long-term benefits and consequences—including environmental and related consequences—of resource development.
- Participate in professional forums and town hall meetings and speak at gatherings, such as community service organizations, library lecture series, and at local nature centers on the range of issues associated mineral and energy resources. We should emphasize the critical use of geologic information regarding finite energy and mineral resources and the need for additional public investment to improve understanding of mineral and energy resources research, stewardship, and education.
- Participate in public education at the local level, in order to foster interaction among local, state, and federal governments; educational and research institutions; energy developers and industry; and the public. We should seek to better inform the public and to increase grassroots support for funding for geologic information about energy and mineral resource issues.
The Geological Society of America can:
- Provide members with print, Web, and personnel resources to facilitate communication with decision makers regarding the role of government in mineral and energy resources. GSA’s Geology and Public Policy Committee, Geology and Society Division, and Director for Geoscience Policy in Washington, D.C., have considerable expertise for providing such assistance.
- Raise awareness of the role of geology and government in mineral and energy resources by publishing articles, conducting symposia, technical sessions, and workshops at annual and sectional meetings on these subjects.
1. U.S. Geological Survey and Mary C. Rabbitt, 1975, A brief history of the U.S. Geological Survey: 36 pages. https://doi.org/10.3133/70039204
2. Arrobas, D. L., Hund, K. L., Mccormick, M.S., Ningthoujam, J., Drexhage, J. R., 2017, The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future (English): Washington, D.C., World Bank Group. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/207371500386458722/The-Growing-Role-of-Minerals-and-Metals-for-a-Low-Carbon-Future
3. Lederer, G. W.; and E. A. McCullough, 2018, Meeting the mineral needs of the United States: Eos, v. 99. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO102177.
4. Schulz, K.J., DeYoung, J.H., Jr., Seal, R.R., II, and Bradley, D.C., eds., 2017, Critical mineral resources of the United States—Economic and environmental geology and prospects for future supply: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1802, 797 p., http://doi.org/10.3133/pp1802.
5. National Energy Technology Laboratory, Department of Energy, Feasibility of recovering rare earths elements. https://netl.doe.gov/coal/rare-earth-elements (accessed 08-18-2020)