Ball State University, Muncie, Ind., has begun the drilling of the largest geothermal project in U.S. history. On May 9, the first of up to 4,000 holes was ceremonially drilled by Senator Richard Lugar, using Laibe Corp.’s model Versa-Drill V-100NG/RH drilling rig.

“This system will heat and cool more than 40 buildings over 660 acres, and as such, it will be the first full-scale district geothermal project in the country,“ says Ball State University president Jo Ann Gora.

The new system will replace the university’s coal-fired plant, and is anticipated to save $2 million annually in energy costs.

“We’re honored to be part of the ground-breaking ceremony,” says Jim Hopkins, president and CEO, Laibe Corp. “Our rigs have travelled around the world and helped with some pretty amazing projects, but to be part of the Ball State ground-breaking truly is an exciting opportunity, especially with Senator Lugar on the driller’s stand of a Versa-Drill.”

The project is expected to be completed in 8 years, and will create numerous new jobs throughout that time. When complete, it’s expected to eliminate 80,000 tons of carbon emissions per year, and cut Ball State’s carbon footprint in half.

Construction for the first phase will involve drilling 1,750 wells. As many as 10 drilling rigs will be operating at the same time in order to get the first two well fields done as quickly as possible. Ball State is drawing the attention of other universities that are calling to see how they’re approaching the project.

The finished project should leave a very small visual footprint on the campus. “If we do everything right, when it’s all said and done, this place will look exactly like it looks right now,” Gora says.

“This is a large project,” says Hopkins. “We are confident that Ball State University will set the standard for large-scale geothermal projects. Laibe Corp. will do whatever it can to assist Ball State in making sure this project is a success for them and the geothermal industry.”