An ambitious University of Nevada, Reno project to understand and characterize geothermal potential at nearly 500 sites throughout the Great Basin is yielding a bounty of information for the geothermal industry to use in developing resources in Nevada, according to a report to the U.S. Department of Energy.
project, based in the University's Bureau of Mines and Geology in the College of Science, is funded by a $1 million DOE
grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It has reached the
one-year mark, and is entering phase two, when five or six of the 250
identified potentially viable geothermal sites will be studied in more detail.
Some of the studied sites will even have 3-D imaging to help those in the
industry better understand geothermal processes and identify where to drill for
the hot fluids.
research aims to provide a catalogue of favorable structural elements, such as
the pattern of faulting and models for geothermal systems and site-specific
targeting using innovative techniques for fault analysis. The project will
enhance exploration methodologies and reduce the risk of drilling non-productive
principal investigator for the project, geologist and research professor at the
University of Nevada,
Reno, has a
team of six researchers and several graduate students working with him on
various aspects of the project.
the 463 geothermal sites to study, we've studied and characterized more than
250 in the past year, either using existing records or on-site analyses,"
Faulds says. "We'll continue to study more of the sites so we can develop
better methods and tools for geothermal exploration. Most, about two-thirds, of
the geothermal resources in the Great Basin are blind – that is, there are no
surface expressions, such as hot
springs, to indicate what's perhaps 1,500 feet below
characterization of known geothermal systems is critical for new discoveries,
targeting drilling sites and development, Faulds explains. The success of
modeling sites for exploration is limited without basic knowledge of which
fault and fracture patterns, stress conditions and stratigraphic intervals are
most conducive to hosting geothermal reservoirs.
geothermal industry doesn't have the same depth of knowledge for geothermal
exploration as the mineral and oil industries," he says. "Mineral and
oil companies conducted extensive research years ago that helps them to
characterize favorable settings and determine where to drill. With geothermal,
it's studies like this that will enhance understanding of what controls hot
fluids in the earth's crust, and thus provide an exploration basis for industry
to use in discovering and developing resources."
his team have defined a spectrum of favorable structural settings for
geothermal systems in the Great Basin and
completed a preliminary catalogue that interprets the structural setting of
most its geothermal systems.
is the first attempt to broadly characterize and catalogue Great
Basin geothermal systems in this way," he says.
addition, Faulds has developed and taught a geothermal exploration class,
published many papers on his work and presented his work at many conferences,
including the World Geothermal Congress in Bali,
Indonesia and the GEONZ2010
Geoscience-Geothermal Conference in Auckland,
want to help the industry achieve acceptable levels of site-selection risk
ahead of expensive drilling," he says. "This study costs only $1
million, but it could cost a company several million dollars for drilling at a
single prospect in the hopes that they hit a good hot well. Our research will
provide the baseline studies that are absolutely needed if Nevada
is going to become the Saudi
Arabia of geothermal."