The short- and long-term value of the geological data (including physical samples, logs, and maps) that have been collected by the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) since the early 1850s cannot be underestimated. These data have long been recognized as critical to researching and mapping the complexities of Illinois’ surface and subsurface geology, and millions of state and other government dollars have been invested in their collection. These data are essential for land, water, and mineral resource discoverability and planning, hazard mitigation, energy development and storage, and a host of other uses, most notably, addressing societal impacts from climate change scenarios, and transitioning away from fossil fuels and toward green energy options. Therefore, it’s the mission of the ISGS to ensure that they are not only properly preserved but are discoverable and accessible.
Geological data holdings require continuous evaluation to assess their extent, condition, and accessibility. Are they in good enough condition for use? Do they support various ISGS priorities and initiatives? Is their future potential reasonably considered? The ISGS geological mapping programs are 100% dependent on the data that they have collected and will collect. Therefore, preservation and accessibility of this collected data are foundational to programmatic success, and there is increased urgency for data preservation.
Both the Association of American State Geologists and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have established a strategic goal for 2D and 3D seamless geological mapping of the nation by 2030. This has been supported by increased federal appropriations to the USGS for critical minerals mapping and discoverability and specifically to the National Cooperative Geological Mapping Program for geological mapping. Also, the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (PL 117-58) provides additional funds for critical minerals assessments, as well as increased funding specifically for preservation of samples to track geochemical signatures from critical minerals. This recent increase of rederal funds with an emphasis on geological mapping validates the urgent need for long-range plans for data preservation and mandates that states will actively participate in the effort. Access and preservation of historical and present holdings, as well as generation of new data that will require preservation (whether that be samples, logs, maps, or other data), will be exponentially increasing.
Benefits to the ISGS and its stakeholders are both those that are readily and immediately realized and, very importantly, include those that are unrealized. ISGS mine subsidence data are accessed regularly by the insurance and realty industries. Yearly numbers indicate between 60,000 and 100,000 requests for these data per year. Oil and gas data are used by industry stakeholders to assess potential for new wells. Engineering and planning firms access geologic maps and subsurface well logs for facility siting, evaluating construction conditions, and natural hazards assessments. Water and geothermal drillers use geological data and maps for delineating aquifer resources and subsurface heating/cooling potentials. All of these industries (and particularly the mineral resources industry), as well as the public, have access to and use our geological samples library of 16,000 cores covering 870,600 feet of the sampled subsurface, and 70,825 well cuttings covering over 78,000,000 sampled vertical feet.
The ISGS is also now getting green energy requests for well, geologic, and elevation data from companies planning wind and solar farms. Use of ISGS data not only saves taxpayer dollars in hazard mitigation and other site planning efforts, as liabilities are reduced substantially when natural hazard and pollution prone areas can be avoided, but also brings in new money as these industries grow and build in our state. The long-term collection and curation of these data by the ISGS has given these and other industries “one-stop-shopping” to access and use this information at no cost.