On Wednesday September 17 Jonathan D. Arthur (President, Association of American State Geologist and Director & State Geologist of Florida), Patrick J. Gooding (Kentucky Geological Survey) and Theodore A. Pagano (General Manager, Michigan Potash Company) testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources to express their support for the reauthorization of the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program Act of 2005, H.R. 5066. The bill, introduced by Representative Benishek (R-MI), reauthorizes $30 million annually to support data preservation, shifting the dates of the original bill from 2005-2009 to 2015-2019. The program, administered by the USGS, establishes state-federal partnerships through 100% state-matched grants to facilitate the acquisition, archiving, and storage of geological data.
Arthur led off the witness testimony indicating AASG’s strong support for reauthorization, emphasizing the importance of “restoration, preservation, and accessibility of geological and geophysical data”. He described examples of the data at risk including, “rock and sediment samples, fossils, paper logs, aerial photos, and maps, which are often in poor states of preservation and access, and in danger of permanent loss.” In addition, currently most of the repositories are at or near capacity putting future data at even great risk of loss. Arthur emphasized that this data is actively used by local, state, tribal, and federal agencies and the private sector, who “rely on this data for purposes of water, mineral, and energy discoveries and assessments, natural hazard mitigation, and protection of human health and the environment.” Patrick Gooding reiterated many points made by Arthur and discussed the cost savings of data preservation and re-examination as an alternative to new data collection, emphasizing that “fieldwork, data acquisition, and research are costly, time consuming, and dangerous.” Pagano provided his company, Michigan Potash, as an example of a success story that “utilized rescued and old geological data to identify a critical, strategic resource that actually strengthens US balance of trade, helps our US farmer, and potentially impacts food security.” Michigan Potash’s re-examination of core samples in a Michigan repository, which would have cost an estimated $200 million to replicate, led to discovery of a deposit valued at $65 billion.
Passage of H.R. 5066 would reauthorize the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Act through 2019 and hopefully send a clear message to appropriators of the importance of properly funding the program and supporting the efforts underway to preserve geological data. Reauthorization has received bi-partisan support in the committee, with Representative Benishek (R-MI) emphasizing the vital importance of preserving data and making it accessible, quoting the National Research Council that “data are the life blood of science and the key to understanding this and other worlds. As such they are a critical national resource that must be protected, preserved, and made accessible to all people for all time.” Ranking Member Rush Holt (D-NJ) agreed, describing the bill as long overdue and the data as invaluable, irreplaceable, and “not static museum pieces; these collections are used, will be used, should be used day by day by government scientists, the private sector, teachers, students, and others.” Although reauthorization has garnered bi-partisan support, it is unlikely to be voted on during this congressional session due to the short time left in congressional calendar.
- Karen Paczkowski, GSA Science Policy Fellow