State of the Survey 2012

Don McKay, Director
Illinois State Geological Survey
November 16, 2012

The Illinois State Geological Survey is a Division of the Prairie Research Institute of the University of Illinois. We are 170 individual scientists, engineers, and other professionals carrying out geoscience in the public service. The annual State of the Survey address is a long tradition. This is my fourth.

At the Geological Survey, our mission is to provide the citizens and institutions of Illinois with earth science research and information that are accurate, objective, and relevant to our State's environmental quality, economic prosperity, and public safety.

At the Prairie Research Institute, our mission is to provide objective, integrated scientific research and service, in cooperation with other academic and research units of the University of Illinois and elsewhere, that allow citizens and decision makers to make choices that ensure sustainable economic development, enduring environmental quality, and cultural resource preservation for the people, businesses, and governments of Illinois.

And, at the University of Illinois, our mission includes major objectives in teaching and (most notably for our work) research, public engagement, and economic development.

All of these missions are concordant and all are ours. We accept them and are working to implement them daily.

As we practice our science and engineering, we are mindful of our legislative mandates, and we understand that the Scientific Surveys have special status as the scientific arm of Illinois agencies and as servants of the people, businesses, and governments of Illinois.

Because our main focus at the State Geological Survey is applied geoscience investigation of our particular piece of geography, our science is done for the betterment of Illinois, whether it is carried out here or elsewhere in the world. We have trained ourselves and structured our organization to achieve these aims. We are very good at what we do.

To the Survey staff, I want to say that although your section heads, Chief Scientist, and I serve as your leadership team, you do the good and relevant science of the Survey.

Last time I spoke to you, I outlined a plan for Survey reorganization, which put the present leadership team in place. Early this calendar year, that team undertook discussion and refinement of the Survey’s strategic direction.

Between January and April, the 11 section heads presented their research and service objectives to the whole leadership team. In their presentations, they discussed plans, opportunities, needs, and challenges. They laid out expected staff turnover and contributed to a strategic hiring plan.

Acting on that plan during the past 8 months, we have hired about a dozen persons with our appropriated funds, bringing to an end a very long hiring drought. Thank you for your patience and for your service on many search committees. As a consequence of that work, we are nearly up to strength.

Next, let’s consider some of your many accomplishments of the past year. I regret I cannot mention them all.

Sequestration science in Illinois—a great program to begin the discussion

  • Rob Finley is leading the largest, most visible, and most successful of the carbon capture, utilization, and storage research and demonstration programs in the nation, and probably in the world.
  • Today, the Illinois Basin-Decatur Project reaches a major milestone.
    • On its 1-year anniversary, injecting at 1,000 tonnes/day, the project has stored 330,000 tonnes of the greenhouse gas CO2 in the Mount Simon Sandstone 7,000 feet beneath Decatur, and we are on target to reach our objective of 1 million tonnes in 3 years.
    • The Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage project led by ADM will begin drilling a second injection well in 2013, and when it reaches its target injection level of 1.0 million tonnes/year, the two wells will be taking 100% of the CO2 from the Decatur corn ethanol operation.
  • These hugely successful projects are the flagship of the US Department of Energy (USDOE) regional sequestration partnerships.
  • These projects are, in fact, a case study in partnerships: USDOE, ADM, Schlumberger, Trimeric Corporation, and the Indiana and Kentucky Geosurveys, to name a few.
  • International attention is clearly focused on Illinois carbon sequestration.
    • Technical assistance and research opportunities are developing with South Korea, South Africa, Australia, Germany, Norway, Japan, and Taiwan.
    • Rob is not here now because he is on a plane today headed for Japan, and then Taiwan.
    • On the horizon, I believe there will be opportunities not only for our leaders, but also for our scientists to work overseas.
  • In other major sequestration projects, Hannes Leetaru and his team are taking a regional look at the Knox Supergroup and other potential reservoirs and seals.
  • Scott Frailey and team are bolstering CO2 enhanced oil recovery (EOR) projects. Tested under Phase II, EOR is ready for larger-scale implementation.
  • Sally Greenberg and team are running an expanding Sequestration Training and Education Program with partners locally and internationally.

Geological mapping of priority areas—an underfunded national priority and vital component of Geological Survey work

  • Steve Brown and team are concluding 3-D mapping of Lake County, with a comprehensive 3-D lithofacies model of the glacial-lacustrine succession along the western margin of the Lake Michigan glacial lobe.
  • Jason Thomason and team are mapping the complex hydrostratigraphy of McHenry County in 3-D.
  • Don Keefer and team are nearing the finish line on 3-D mapping of Kendall County.
  • These ISGS projects have developed and piloted modern 3-D geological mapping and have demonstrated its utility in collaborations with geological surveys internationally.
  • Traditional bedrock and surficial geologic quadrangle mapping is also important to our stakeholders and the programs that fund our work.
  • A total of 350geologic maps have been produced at the Geological Survey during the last two decades, a time of increased geologic map productivity nationwide.
  • New federal funding has come via COGEOMAP in the 1980s and early 1990s, the STATEMAP element of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program since 1993, and the Great Lakes Geological Mapping Coalition since 2000.
  • In our quadrangle mapping, we are currently focusing on
    • Bedrock geology in southern Illinois and north-central Illinois.
    • Surficial geology in the Kaskaskia Valley, Wabash Valley, Mahomet Bedrock Valley, and greater Chicagoland area.
  • Our Geological Mapping Advisory Committee serves as an excellent external partner.
  • The Illinois STATEMAP team has been immensely successful, doing high-quality work for 20 years. The Illinois program is widely known as reliably outstanding year upon year.

Outreach—We have a lot of reaching out to do.

  • A recent highlight has been the field trips to Kickapoo for every fifth grader in Champaign Unit 4 Schools—hundreds of kids! Joan Crockett and team have worked in partnership with the Unit 4 Schools.
  • Lisa Anderson Venner joins us as our new Outreach Coordinator.
  • She and our Outreach Program will depend on your continued participation.
  • Going forward, let’s look at how we can improve our impact.
  • Let’s benchmark other surveys and see what they do successfully.
  • Let’s focus on teachers to reach more pupils.
  • Let’s support curricula tied to learning standards and plant programs.
  • Let’s reach out beyond the education community to companies, state and local governments, foundations, and other nongovernmental organizations.
  • Let’s continue to make the most of the spring Expo.
  • Let’s be involved in the Institute Summer Science Camp being planned for high school students for 1 week this summer.

Geology of Illinois gallery—a very interesting idea that we are exploring actively

  • Jared Freiberg is the prime mover on this, and he has assembled a team to brainstorm and plan.
  • The objective is to create a gallery, a destination in the Natural Resources Building, to show off Illinois geology, mainly to showcase the best of Illinois mineral, fossil, and geology displays.

Publications— We are rebuilding.

  • Susan Krusemark has just joined us as our new Managing Scientific Editor.  
  • With her leadership, we will be taking a fresh look at our processes and products.
  • Meanwhile, I hope you have heard that we are well along in digitizing all our historic publications.
  • Tammy Montgomery, Lura Joseph, and Anne Huber were the partnership that made this happen.
  • Soon pdf files of all our publications will be online, searchable, and accessible at no cost.

Technical assistance to industry—a recent very significant outreach opportunity

  • Last year, Hannes Leetaru’s Knox Reservoir Project contracted for collection of a $3 million, 120-mile-long seismic reflection line from Meredosia to southwest Champaign County. Its purpose was to help characterize the Mt. Simon Reservoir in central Illinois.
  • My objective in organizing a public event to release these data was to put the data in the hands of companies that could turn it to productive economic use.
  • We collaborated with Illinois Oil and Gas Association (IOGA) in planning the event.
  • On October 10, Hannes and I met representatives of 30 companies in a packed room in the Mt. Vernon headquarters of IOGA.
  • At the end of our 20-minute presentation, every attendee received the digital data, and 50 more companies accessed the data via our website in the days that followed.
  • The very next day, two companies called to say they had found multiple drilling prospects along the line.

Hydraulic fracturing legislation—influencing the future of the Illinois petroleum industry

  • Hydraulic fracturing is a method of well completion that uses high-pressure fluid to crack rock next to the wellbore to increase the surface area of the formation that can yield gas, oil, or both to the well. It is something you should all know about.
  • Hydraulic fracturing is a decades-old technology in Illinois, but in the spring of 2012, concern about its use on shale-gas booms in other states in recent years spurred concern here in Illinois. Requests for briefings and information have been accelerating since.
  • In September, we received a request from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to do a 3-hour briefing for attorneys in their office in Springfield in mid-October. Their concern: hydraulic fracturing and induced seismicity.
    • Rob Finley, Bob Bauer, and I met with a dozen of their attorneys.
    • Bob’s presentation on seismicity and our discussion of the geologic and technological aspects of hydraulic fracturing were clearly eye opening for them.
  • Shortly thereafter, we were invited to join an Illinois House Committee working on hydraulic fracturing legislation.
    • Members of the General Assembly, industry, and environmental groups were at the table with Bob Bauer and me.
    • The chairman stated the goal: “Everyone is here to see that this technology is implemented in Illinois in order to produce petroleum and to do so in an environmentally safe manner, right?” Only after all had agreed, we proceeded.
    • In the meeting, when the topic of risk of induced seismicity arose, a lawyer from the Attorney General’s Office stood up and said, “The Geological Survey has briefed us, and we understand that induced seismicity is not an issue in the use of hydraulic fracturing in production wells (vertical or horizontal). It may be an issue in some very deep wells used for high-volume disposal of produced waters.”
    • The chairman immediately responded, “That being the case, let’s move to the next issue.”
    • They were listening, and we are making a difference.
  • As I say, get to know this subject, and pass along your understanding. You are the best ambassadors on this sensitive subject, and members of the public are generally very poorly informed at present.

Stewardship of our geologic records—for ourselves and our clients

  • Mark Yacucci, Bryan Huff, and the Geologic Records Unit team worked with the Illinois Petroleum Resources Board, which has provided a steady cash flow that has helped us with scanning of wireline logs and more.
  • Scanning other contents of the well folders is next, and just in this month, we received 70 file cabinets of data from IOGA to be reconciled with our well records.

National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program (NGGDPP)—a small project with an outsized impact

  • This year, Ron Klass and team scanned our field notes collection, creating an interface into that large compendium of field observations.
  • Completed were 169 volumes, all the typed field notes, and eight volumes of Industrial Minerals field notes—68,137 scanned pages and 97,395 field locations in total.

Helicopter-borne Time-Domain Electromagnetics (HTEM)—a cutting-edge geophysical 3-D imagery technology

  • Don Keefer just returned from Denmark, working with Danish colleagues who have visited us twice in Champaign.
  • We have been looking at this method for possible testing in Illinois to examine the lithology of the upper 300 to 500 feet of the Earth.
  • We are exploring an opportunity for collaboration with the Geological Survey of Canada, U.S. Geological Survey, and state and provincial surveys to field test the technique on a buried valley system not unlike our Mahomet Buried Valley.

Environmental site assessments for a valued client

  • In 2011 and 2012, the environmental site assessment workload tripled, and Anne Erdmann and team are now routinely completing between 200 and 300 assessment reports each year.
  • The workload increase resulted in considerable challenges that the program has risen to meet. Always a demanding customer, Illinois Department of Transportation continues to express its satisfaction with the Survey’s work.
  • The team is moving ahead, already looking at segments of the proposed alignment for high-speed rail in Illinois.

Energy and Environmental Engineering

  • Yongqi Lu, Seyed Dastgheib, and their sizable Applied Research Laboratory team are developing novel technologies related to clean coal energy, energy-related water use, and advanced environmental sorbents.
  • The Laboratory’s national and international recognition for research and development is strong.
  • In 2012, the Laboratory brought in $1.5 million from federal, state, and private sponsors.
  • They have an unparalleled record of publication, development of invention disclosures, and patent applications.

Fundamental geoscience gets results

  • Zak Lasemi and team, with U of I faculty, and geoarchaeologists at the Archaeological Survey, are demonstrating the importance of mineralogical studies in researching source areas for artifacts.
  • Brett Denny, Joe Devera, and team are conducting geologic mapping and mineralogical studies in districts with mining history and potential for fluorite and perhaps rare earth mineral mining in southern Illinois.
  • Don Mikulic and team are measuring delta-13C signatures of Silurian strata in Illinois to facilitate high-resolution correlations globally.

Fossil energy is important to Illinois and is an emphasis at ISGS

  • Scott Elrick and team report that coal production is accelerating in Illinois.
    • Cline Resources is opening four longwall panels that will increase coal production by more than 25 million tons/year, nearly doubling annual Illinois coal production.
    • Meanwhile, increasing demand by European and Indian coal customers will allow overseas exports to make up for slowing domestic demand caused, in part, by low natural gas prices.
  • Detailed oil reservoir characterization of the century-old Lawrence Oil Field via DOE funding has assisted an advanced EOR project.
    • Application of the new alkaline surfactant polymer EOR technique increased consistent production from 16 to 70 barrels of oil per day (BOPD), with peak production in excess of 100 BOPD.
    • Successful fieldwide deployment could result in recovery of an additional 50 to 150 million barrels of oil from the Lawrence Oil Field.
    • Application in similar mature reservoirs across the Illinois Basin could yield more than 1 billion barrels of oil.

Geochemistry research underpinning big projects

  • Doing reservoir fluid characterization at the Illinois Basin–Decatur Project, Randy Locke and team worked over the past 18 months to collect samples from the 7,200-foot-deep verification well.
  • Five major sampling events defined the composition of deep brines at the site, especially as composition pertains to carbon sequestration and brine-rock-CO2 geochemical interactions.
  • Fluid compositional data from the verification well (1) establish hydrochemical conditions, (2) are used to evaluate the geochemical responses of the reservoir to injection, and (3) provide geochemical model inputs and insights into the origins of Illinois Basin brines.

Stewardship of light detection and ranging (LiDAR)—providing an unprecedented look at our landscape

  • Sheena Beaverson and team report that the total area of LiDAR acquired amounts to 71 Illinois counties and more than 15 terabytes of data.
  • New staff positions are being hired to accelerate data processing and access.
  • No data have been acquired for the remaining 31 counties. Funding is problematic, and statewide LiDAR completion is uncertain.

Potential effects of energy technologies on groundwater

  • Ed Mehnert and team are developing a basin-scale model (a two-phase model) seeking to evaluate the development of geologic carbon sequestration in the Illinois Basin.
  • Yu-Feng Lin and Water Survey researchers have developed a groundwater flow model (a single-phase model) of bedrock aquifers in northeast Illinois.
  • Linking these two models will allow researchers to assess the pressures resulting from carbon sequestration in central Illinois and pressures resulting from groundwater production from deep bedrock aquifers in northeast Illinois.

Effectiveness of bioswales for managing roadway runoff

  • Jim Miner and team have shown that bioswales appear promising to reduce roadway runoff and remove contaminants, and that design choices (wet vs. dry) affect expected improvements.
    • New work is underway on attenuation of chloride levels to reduce peak loads in impaired watersheds.

At this point, I want to change gears and make a few observations about the Prairie Research Institute:

  • The name change from Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability to Prairie Research Institute has been a strong plus. We are certainly relieved when we no longer have to stumble over the old name.
  • Our Executive Director and his leadership team are working diligently on behalf of all the Surveys
    • to strengthen understanding, on campus and beyond, that the Institute is the home of the Scientific Surveys;
    • to sustain funding of our General Revenue Fund (GRF);
    • to reclassify our positions appropriately to recognize the significant science and service that we do; and
    • to strengthen the Prairie Research Institute brand, something we all need to help accomplish.
  • A strong Institute brand will help us all.
  • Bill has assembled a very impressive Advisory Board. Its nearly two dozen members are working on our behalf.
  • In addition, the Institute has strong support of our new Vice Chancellor for Research Peter Schiffer, a fellow scientist, a physicist from Penn State most recently.

Now, some comments about our finances are traditional:

  • I could say that we are as healthy as any entity that depends on the State of Illinois for its funds, but that would not be very helpful!
  • Seriously, we are in good fiscal shape. We have had steady GRF funding, holding for the last 5 years at about $6 million/year.
    • We devote virtually all our GRF resources to salaries, and as I have noted, with recent hiring, those resources are nearly all committed.
  • Our contract expenditures have been increasing:
    • Fiscal year 2012 expenditures were more than $28 million, four times what they were 5 years ago.
  • Forty-four percent of the facilities and administrative costs charged to contracts are returned to the Institute, and Bill Shilts returns those funds to the Surveys. We use them to cover the costs of our operations. I expect that we will have some flexibility to take care of some overdue issues and consider some modest initiatives with these funds.

In this address, I owe you a few words on issues that are on our horizon. We will

  • Deal with the ongoing exit of baby boomers.
  • Hire smart to ensure discharge of our mandated responsibilities and expansion our research horizons.
  • Remain focused on societally relevant issues.
  • Contribute to the discovery and production of natural resources needed by our growing population.
  • Respond to challenges related to resource development (e.g., shale gas).
  • Provide information for the mitigation of hazards.
  • Map in 3-D to help establish the geologic context everywhere in our state.
  • Focus increasingly on mobile applications.
  • Develop more diverse funding strategies.
  • Carry out projects locally and internationally.


Let me wrap this up by saying that, as an organization, the Illinois State Geological Survey is solid. We are no larger—and, in fact, no better funded—than we have been at times in the past. Frankly, I suspect that in aggregate we are probably no smarter than our predecessors. So one might ask, “What we can do to improve on the Survey’s past century of science and service?”

I suggest the first thing that we must realize, internalize, and convey to those who fund us is that our geoscience in Illinois is not yet mature. We are still in an era of geologic discovery and much remains to be understood. Hence, our formula of fieldwork, teamwork, hard work, and smart work continues to be our key to success.

Moreover, today we benefit from several great advantages over our scientific predecessors, advantages that help us keep pushing the boundaries of knowledge forward:

  • We have the pace of advancing science. New ideas, theories, concepts, and models build the foundation of understanding for us to apply in our geoscientific disciplines.
  • We have new data and observations. We see things our predecessors never saw via LiDAR, 3-D Seismic, and new instrumentation that can give us fresh insight.
  • We have new analytical and simulation technologies. Rapid physical and chemical characterization with sophisticated modeling and computer-aided visualization can bring new facts and relations to light.

So we can proceed confidently, applying the best tools to the refinement of our science and using our best understanding to address relevant issues. That being done, Illinois will continue to be improved by our science, as it has been for more than a century.

I thank you for your attention and for your work on behalf of the Survey and Illinois.

Don McKay
Director and Illinois State Geologist
November 16, 2012