New Geothermal Data Collection Funded in Fifteen States
Kim Patten, Project Coordinator, Arizona Geological Survey

Acting on behalf of the Association of American State Geologists (AASG), the Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) has allocated $3.6 million in Department of Energy funds to fifteen State Geological Surveys (SGS) and other participants in the National Geothermal Data System (NGDS) project being managed by AZGS. The supplemental funding will allow the SGS to collect new field data with immediate relevance in the development of geothermal energy. Proposals for the supplemental funding from DOE were submitted to AZGS during the fall of 2010 and underwent an extensive review process by the project’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), a six member board with demonstrated expertise in geothermal energy exploration and research that recommend what projects to fund and at what level.

Most of the funding, $2.6 million, was distributed to exploratory drilling projects. These projects were determined to have the maximum immediate utility for the discovery and utilization of geothermal energy production. The Great Basin Consortium, consisting of SGS in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah, is the largest recipient of funding for their focused effort to explore for undiscovered geothermal systems. In addition, Washington State Department of Natural Resources Division of Geology and Earth Resources is receiving a drilling and data collection award to promote commercial geothermal exploration. The Great Basin and Pacific Coast are currently home to the greatest power producing geothermal plants in the U.S. and are commonly viewed as the areas with the greatest potential for large scale geothermal power production in the conterminous U.S.

The Consortium partners each targeted eight sites for measuring heat flow data from drill holes within their respective states. Locations were selected in areas where there is little or no current (or past) exploration, thus, truly adding new potential geothermal energy production data to the NGDS. Funding levels provided will enable each state the ability to drill at least three holes between 500 and 1,000 feet deep, provide drilling support, and collect other types of geothermal-relevant field data. As drill projects funded with federal monies, the selected sites will undergo National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) clearance through the respective states and the Department of Energy.

During drilling, the State Geological Surveys will take numerous measurements down open boreholes including lithology logging, temperature logging, and other types of data logs, and collect water samples for geochemical analysis. Thermal conductivity and temperature gradient measurements are then combined to calculate estimates of stored heat, heat flow, temperature-at-depth, and technical geothermal megawatt equivalent (MWe) generating potential for these states. This analysis is critical to locating areas of high crustal heat flow and geothermal potential. The data will be collected or converted into digital formats compatible with the NGDS and made publicly available through the NGDS.

Non-drilling projects in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Vermont, and West Virginia comprised the remainder of the funding. Arizona’s award focused on data collection related to twenty thermal springs and detailed mapping of areas with geothermal energy potential. New chemistry and isotope data for the groundwater from each spring will be gathered. In addition, the geologic context for thermal water at Agua Caliente Warm Spring, Hooker Hot Spring, and other specific areas within the Pinaleno Mountains and Safford-San Simon basin will be mapped. The data provided would examine thermal water in various settings including volcanic rocks that are not well studied, detachment faulting, and a high mountain range with adjacent deep sedimentary basin. Results would provide critical data on thermal water transport mechanisms and insight to locating similar geologic settings in Arizona that may support geothermal energy production.

Colorado, touted by the Science Advisory Board as having the most well-written and presented proposal, received funding to collect numerous new data points. These include new heat flow measurements providing base-level data for geothermal resources where none currently exists; thermal conductivity measurement in sedimentary basins; basement radiogenic heat production measurements; water geochemistry and isotope analyses; as well as shallow ground heat-transfer characterization data. The goals of collecting this new data are to fill vital gaps in the existing data sets while providing new data for the rapidly growing ground-source heat pump industry in Colorado that, while not generating MWe, would reduce the carbon footprint and demand on power generating plants. The Colorado Geological Survey was also able to secure matching funds from both the private and public sectors.

The Maine Geological Survey (MEGS) proposed to augment existing data by collecting temperature profile measurements from water wells. Currently the MEGS water well database consists of 100,000 wells, 1,000 of which are deeper than 650 feet (200 meters). The supplemental funding award allows MEGS to collect samples from 15 of the deep wells located within intrusive igneous bodies. The data collected will focus on the thermal conductivities of the granites in order to calculate approximate heat flows. This data will also be digitized and included in the NGDS.

Additional information on the supplemental funding awards and current progress on the NGDS are available on the website.

Additional information on Geothermal Energy Production can be found online at the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Program publication “Buried Treasure: The Environmental, Economic, and Employment Benefits of Geothermal Energy.”

State Geothermal Data Website Receives a Fresh Look

The State Geothermal Data website is receiving a makeover that provides an interactive site for project members and the geothermal users as well as the public. Users will be able to easily navigate the site to find current geothermal news items and overviews of submitted data in addition to general information regarding the program. Members will have the ability to log in to the site in order to post questions, download key forms and templates, and review project specific files within the file repository. Further contributing to the interactive nature of the site, members and other users will have access to recorded webinars and training on NGDS as well as presentations from various conferences and invited talks. Employment opportunities related to the NGDS project will also be advertised; these will include positions with other project members across the country as they open.


Kim Patten
Project Coordinator

Arizona Geological Survey
Tucson, AZ

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Editor: Michael Conway