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Sarah Palin wasn't wrong. She just has her energy resources confused. We should be drilling for hot rocks, not oil.

Sarah Palin wasn't wrong. She just has her energy resources confused.  

Before the exploration drilling rig Deepwater Horizon went down 52 miles off the Mississippi Delta, it was costing British Petroleum between $500,000 and $1 million a day to operate.  Using state-of-the-deep-drilling-art technology, the crew bored a test well down to at least 18,500 feet, which I am told was the depth they were permitted to drill. Rumor has it they drilled closer to 25,000 feet, while floating atop some 5,000 feet of water, making the total depth of the project nearly 30,000 feet (9 km).  That's equivalent to where modern jetliners fly when they leave those white contrails high overhead.

The oil coming out of such depths is a scalding 275 degrees F at a metal cutting 17,400 psi. But the now-ruptured Macondo borehole isn't the deepest Gulf well drilled. That honor goes to the Tiber well at 35,000 feet, plus 4,100 feet of water. Prior to it, Thunder Horse held the record at 29,000 feet and 6,000 feet of water.  By way of contrast, the deepest oil well of its time, the Daisy Bradford #3, struck oil at mere 3,593 ft in 1930.

As the Deepwater Horizon tragedy demonstrates, drilling for oil and gas offshore is expensive, risky and potentially disastrous; plus the resource is finite, at least on a human scale. Which begs the question, why bother?  As the map below suggests, there is plenty of pollution-free energy to be had just below our feet… well, a bit deeper than that, around 6 km (about 20,000 feet), which,given today's drilling technology, should be a "piece of cake," though the reality is, it's a lot tougher than it appears.

Click to View US Deep Geothermal Resouces Map

Several years ago, the U.S. Energy Department did a study of America's geothermal resources and came up with this map, which shows that pretty much most of the United States has geothermal resources above the boiling point of water that could be used to produce steam for electric power generation and district heating.  Living within 50 miles of one of the "orange" zones that covers nearly all of the state of Nebraska, I keep asking myself why our public utilities continue to burn mountains of dirty coal, when [theoretically] we could be taping that hot rock.  And for that matter, check out Louisiana and east Texas. They too appear to have large swaths of their state sitting atop similarly hot rocks.  As a general rule of thumb, the temperature of a borehole increases by 15F for every 1,000 feet, though some areas are hotter, some cooler depending, it appears, on the type of rock strata below.

So, why isn't BP looking beyond petroleum and hiring Transoceanic, Haliburton, or Schlumberger to use their expertise to tap this unlimited, pollution-free, dry land power source?  Obviously, it isn't a matter of not having the equipment. If these firms can drill down into the mantle of the earth while floating on a heaving ocean a mile above the sea floor, boring to half that distance on stable ground would seem relatively easy.  

Late last year, the British Department of Energy & Climate Change awarded three "deep heat" projects in Cornwall to the tune of some £4 million. Two of the projects are for exploratory boreholes and one is to upgrade and expand a existing "deep" geothermal project; "deep" being a relative term, since it's only about 1 km down.

In 2007, a U.S. Energy Department-funded panel, assembled by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, produced the The Future of Geothermal Energy report, which concluded that for an investment of $1 billion over the course of the next 40 years, we could produce the electric power equivalent of 200 coal fired plants, 100 gigawatts of pollution-free energy.

As you'd expect, cost is a key factor holding back what is called EGS (engineered geothermal systems).  Constructing a working EGS power system is capital intensive, both to find and exploit the resource, and then to operate it, which can include periodic drilling of new holes or stimulating existing resources.  Taking east Texas as an example, since it's in the orange zone similar to that in Nebraska, MIT estimated that the well would have to be 7 km deep and produce a flow rate of 80kg/s to achieve power production costs of around 6¢/kWh.  Rates at other sites from New Hampshire to Nampa, Idaho ranged from at high as 68¢/kWh to a low of 5.5¢/kWh depending on the depth of the boreholes (at least two are required as the illustration below indicates) and the flow rate of the heat transfer medium, likely water.

Considering, however, that, relatively speaking, the power is free and pretty much forever; and it has none of the waste disposal or pollution issues of either nuclear power or coal, EGS would appear to be one of the more promising "clean" technologies we should be seriously investigating.  

Granted, there was one incident in Basel, Switzerland that appears to have triggered a 3.4 seismic event several years ago.  The company doing the drilling, AltRocks, claims the project was built over a known geological fault line.  Future projects would avoid making a similar mistake.  

Other issues that confront EGS are finding an economical way to drill to depths where the hot rocks are, and then finding a way to safely fracture the rock so cold water can be injected and then extracted at working temperatures above 200?.  Dr. Jefferson Tester, the lead author of the MIT report, has an excellent analysis of the costs associated with EGS on the Seeker Blog.

Considering the expected clean up costs of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which will easily exceed MIT's $1 billion EGS investment, not to mention the trillion dollars or more economic impact on the Gulf states fishing and tourism industries, drilling for hot rock instead of dirty oil, would seem a far wiser investment beyond petroleum.

Mrs. Palin, are you listening?

Click to View EGS Illustration

Originally posted to My EV World on Thu May 13, 2010 at 10:05 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Your diary deserves an eKos tag. Thank you. (6+ / 0-)

    "Never, desist till we ... extinguish this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, will scarce believe that it suffered a disgrace and dishonor to this country.

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Thu May 13, 2010 at 10:18:53 AM PDT

  •  Doesn't Iceland... (7+ / 0-)

    heat the entire island with geothermal heat? Isn't it pretty much a social program?

    klaatu barada nikto

    by JohnGor0 on Thu May 13, 2010 at 10:23:10 AM PDT

  •  Socialism? Here? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    OMG! OH NOES!!!!!!!!

    Oh wait, this would be part of Obama's socialist agenda.


    "I'm not writing to make conservatives happy. I want them to hate my opinions. I'm not interested in debating them. I want to stop them." - Steve Gilliard

    by grog on Thu May 13, 2010 at 10:27:15 AM PDT

  •  Hot Rocks, not only the best album ever, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DocGonzo, possum, newpioneer

    but a great energy source? great news!

    What we call god is merely a living creature with superior technology & understanding. If their fragile egos demand prayer, they lose that superiority.

    by agnostic on Thu May 13, 2010 at 10:30:21 AM PDT

  •  Not Easy, But Should Be (0+ / 0-)

    Drilling 20,000 feet into the surface for geothermal isn't going to be easy. Even compared to the deep offshore wells, which drill 20-30,000 feet into the sea floor. Yes, they also drill beneath 5,000 feet of water, but they've demonstrated that they have a high failure rate. They're at and beyond their limits of competence.

    Drilling 4 miles into the crust for geothermal, twice (or more) per power plant, is a lot of work. But we should do a lot of it. Which would reduce the costs by the usual processes of industrial improvement: massification and innovation. We should convert most of the entire oil/gas drilling industry into geothermal drilling, and expand it. Shift every penny subsidizing oil/gas into geothermal (and related infrastructure like a smart grid), then load the oil/gas (and coal, and nukes) industries with their true costs. Then watch as investment flows to the new cash cows, away from the old, ruinous ones.

    And not just deep/hot geothermal. We should make cheap and easy the drilling of lots of 300' deep wells for geothermal heat sinks that make heat pumps give 3x the heating/cooling power as the electricity they consume. Most homes and other buildings should use geothermal heat pumps below, solar thermal water heating on roofs, and solar PV + geothermal power into the grids to power it all.

    If we exploited even a tiny bit of the geothermal and solar power options already available, we'd eliminate our need for petrofuels pretty quickly. We'd probably have enough net power to export again. And surely technology and products to export to the rest of the world, that always loves to follow American leadership when we do the right thing.

    This stuff is hard right now. But we should do it, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Because that makes it easier. And because our survival depends on it.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Thu May 13, 2010 at 10:32:57 AM PDT

    •  Geothermal... (0+ / 0-)

      Does not call for 20,000 foot holes.

      Try 1,000 or less in best sites.

      Heat pumps need 5 foot deep trenches.  About 300' of trench for most houses.  Think 4 75' long 5' deep trenches in your yard.

      A typical septic system drain field, but a couple of feet deeper.

      That "hopey-changey thing"? Takes a Magic Hawaiian to pull it off...

      by BobTrips on Thu May 13, 2010 at 11:04:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Needn't even mess up your roses... (0+ / 0-)

        Thursday afternoon, the residence of Gary Duncan, who lives in the northwest part the county, was the site of a new horizontal bore-through procedure. The procedure cuts down the amount of ground that is torn up to install geothermal loops.

        "Traditionally, you would dig up about a 300-foot trench three feet wide by five feet deep to install the loop," Garrett Cook, of Cook Heating and Air, said. "With this procedure you don't need much room at all. You bore under the ground and all you have is a place in the ground where it comes out."


        This is not new technology.  Wires and pipes are run underneath roads this way all the time.  It's just a new use for existing machines.

        That "hopey-changey thing"? Takes a Magic Hawaiian to pull it off...

        by BobTrips on Thu May 13, 2010 at 11:13:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Thanks for that link. I've been looking for horizontal boring resources for my own home's planned geothermal project. I've got a big hillside in the backyard. If I could bore loop runs into its face, I'd have plenty of capacity, even before horizontal drilling into the favorable fractured rock and moving water table close to the surface.

          "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

          by DocGonzo on Thu May 13, 2010 at 11:50:36 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Supporting the Diary (0+ / 0-)

        I'm using the numbers from the diary.

        Though there are probably lots of sites where 1,000 feet drilling could yield power, the kind of coverage to supply America's baseload needs into the next generation or three do require drilling thousands of feet deep. Especially since the majority of sites that need the least drilling are also prohibited because they're tectonically active.

        As for heat pumps, most American homes don't have 3000+ square feet of trench space. Tree roots and plumbing/electrical infrastructure interfere. Which is why they'll need at least some vertical drilling, which is about 1200' total in about 4 300' deep wells. Some trench space can replace some vertical drilling, about 3x the trench length per replaced vertical drilling.

        I know, because I've been researching and planning for my own home. I've got another project that requires excavation of thousands of square feet of yard, which I'll dig deeper than basically necessary and lay with coils as trenches, since the incremental cost is small (about 10% more than the landscaping). But I'll probably need at least one vertical well. Though even there I might be lucky, since it looks like bedrock is under a dozen feet down, fractured and flooded with the cold river running by across the street about 50' down.

        Site conditions vary, for both heat pumps and steam generation. We'll need an industry regularly drilling at 20,000 feet to do it right. Though every site that can use trenches or shallower wells will just increase the compelling economics that say geothermal should be a top priority.

        "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

        by DocGonzo on Thu May 13, 2010 at 11:46:40 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not 3,000+ feet. (0+ / 0-)

          300 feet.  Four 75 foot runs.  'Normal' house with adequate insulation, etc.

          Plumbing can be moved, picked up/put back down.

          Much cheaper to bring in a small tractor/Ditch Witch on a trailer behind a pickup than to bring in a deep well rig.  (Been there, done that.)


          Here's a map of estimated temps at 3 kilometers, roughly 10,000 feet.  Lots of the US has plenty of heat a 10,000 feet.  

          Every region has 100 C at that depth.  A hundred centigrade is plenty for a dual cycle turbine.


          That "hopey-changey thing"? Takes a Magic Hawaiian to pull it off...

          by BobTrips on Thu May 13, 2010 at 12:14:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  3000+ *Square* Feet (0+ / 0-)

            300 linear feet of trenches need to be separated about 10' on center. That's 3000 square feet.

            "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

            by DocGonzo on Thu May 13, 2010 at 12:42:11 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Possible problem... (0+ / 0-)

              But perhaps less than you estimate.

              43,560 square feet in an acre.  Eight houses per acre is fairly tight/small lot construction.  Each lot would get 5,445 sq.ft.  

              Not all the lines have to be in either front or rear yard.  And they don't need to be 10' from the house or property line.  (Five feet from shared property line would give your neighbor the space to put a system within 5' on their side.)

              That "hopey-changey thing"? Takes a Magic Hawaiian to pull it off...

              by BobTrips on Thu May 13, 2010 at 07:49:59 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Problematic (0+ / 0-)

                Well, most houses are at least 1000sf footprint, so that would leave only 4445sf. And most houses have some trees or other deep rooted plants, and plumbing/gas/oil, and large buried boulders, etc. 3000+ sf isn't going to be available to quite a lot of them. And lots of homes are bigger than the 1500sf that 3000sf of trench can supply.

                And that's leaving out all the homes that are not in even 1/8 acre suburban density. Plenty of suburbs are denser than that, and most people live in cities.

                By the time you look at the factors selecting categories out, a minority of homes have 3000+ sf available for trenches.

                Which is why the horizontal drilling technique is so interesting. The 1000+ sf footprint is available under most homes. If the drill can go through roots, the damage in a straight line that doesn't go directly under a trunk is probably survivable. Do you know how much it costs to do that drilling? I tried to google the Indiana Geothermal company mentioned in the article, but I couldn't pin it down.

                "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

                by DocGonzo on Fri May 14, 2010 at 06:07:40 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Trenching vs. wells... (0+ / 0-)

                  The walk-behind trencher that I used easily went through large (6"+) oak and fir roots.  Plumbing/gas/oil/electrical lines can be gone under or picked up and replaced.

                  The space under the house, as you mention, would be available with the horizontal driller.  And if you're down five feet then you're going to be under utility lines/pipes which are typically only 18" to no more than 36" below surface.

                  Drilling wells, you've got a move-in cost that can be expensive.  Then, at least drilling water wells, there's a price per foot cost that can easily run $20 per foot.  

                  And well drilling rigs are fairly large trucks.  You need room to get them in and in position.  

                  That "hopey-changey thing"? Takes a Magic Hawaiian to pull it off...

                  by BobTrips on Fri May 14, 2010 at 07:14:10 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Wells (0+ / 0-)

                    I don't want to cut any of the roots of the trees on my property, especially the big ones. We had two wind storms here the end of this Winter that shoved over trees established for decades even with their roots intact, though ones cut by sidewalks and roads went over even more frequently. One giant tree in my yard lost its upper half, plunging through my power lines and missing my roof by a few feet, putting me out of power for a month while the insurance corp dawdled.

                    Which is why horizontal drilling looks so good. I can get vertical drilling for as little as $12 a foot. I might have to drill only 2 75' wells through rock instead of 4 300' wells through dirt, if they quickly reach fractured bedrock in the water table, as seems evident from the river across the street. The drillers charge the same price per foot regardless of dirt/rock, averaging it across all jobs, so I'd pay somewhere between $1,800-14,000, and probably much closer to $1800. I'm planning to level about 2500sf of yard already, which I could excavate first to get probably 2000sf of trench, so I might be looking at $1000-7000 vertical drilling additional. But if horizontal drilling 300 linear feet into the backyard hillside, or under the house, is cheaper than $5000, I'd be very interested. I would do more horizontal drilling under the house, too, for drainage, as part of the job.

                    That's why I'm looking for pricing for the horizontal drilling.

                    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

                    by DocGonzo on Fri May 14, 2010 at 07:31:33 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                •  A thought... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  How about calling up plumbing companies in your area and see if any of them do horizontal drilling?

                  We've got at least one company in our area that does.  They run ads on the radio about replacing sewer lines without messing up people's lawns/landscaping.  And this is an 'urban area' of only 50k or so.

                  I'd ask how deep they can drill and their maximum length.  They might not be aware of drilled geothermal, so you might print out a copy of the article to show them.  Might open up a brand new income stream for them.

                  That "hopey-changey thing"? Takes a Magic Hawaiian to pull it off...

                  by BobTrips on Fri May 14, 2010 at 07:33:15 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Trying (0+ / 0-)

                    I'll be doing that. Though the drillers really need to have geothermal drilling experience to be reliable. There are extra techniques for ensuring the geothermal well walls don't crumble into the ground, creating air pockets. And the grouting needs to be done right for the thermal couple. Etc. We've got lots of different soil types around here, since we're in a glacier-carved river gorge, full of stones from battleship sized through softball, golf ball and below.

                    But I will find someone to do this cheaply enough, before the 30% IRS cost credit expires. Hopefully by 2012, so my landscaping can settle down for the long term.

                    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

                    by DocGonzo on Fri May 14, 2010 at 07:43:40 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

  •  Diameter... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Hot rock (enhanced geothermal) needs larger diameter holes and that is a technological difficulty.  Larger holes means more friction on the sides of the bits and much more gear to haul out of the hole to change bits.

    There are at least three companies working on solutions.

    Potter Drilling is using hot water to spallate the rock.  The "bit" does not come into contact with the rock.

    Potter Drilling video

    Tobias Rothenfluh, at the Institute for Process Engineering, Switzerland is using an underwater flame to spallate rock.


    Baker Hughes (yes, that Howard Hughes) is redesigning their traditional bits so that they will stand up to the extra heat.  I imagine that they plan on just upscaling the drilling rig and powering on through....

    Take out the plastic pieces...


    Also, the quake activity seems to occur during fracking, not during drilling.

    We've observed quakes while drilling for oil and natural gas for a hundred years.

    First hot rock wells - drill them out in the hinterlands but close to existing transmission lines while we figure out the quake problems.

    That "hopey-changey thing"? Takes a Magic Hawaiian to pull it off...

    by BobTrips on Thu May 13, 2010 at 10:47:20 AM PDT

  •  Thanks tipped and rec'ed (0+ / 0-)

    Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is wrong. No one forced any of the founding fathers to own people.

    by OHknighty on Thu May 13, 2010 at 11:18:16 AM PDT

  •  Um, Non Sequitur (0+ / 0-)

    Considering the expected clean up costs of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which will easily exceed MIT's $1 billion EGS investment, not to mention the trillion dollars or more economic impact on the Gulf states fishing and tourism industries, drilling for hot rock instead of dirty oil, would seem a far wiser investment beyond petroleum.

    Hot rock geothermal would be used to produce electricity, not oil. Oil is used for fuel for transportation and feedstock for various industries from plastics to pharmeceuticals, not electricity. The fungibility of the two is very very limited to niche applications like plug-in hybrid passenger cars and maybe electric vs. diesel rail lines, which could take over a decade to make a detectable dent in petroleum demand. By and large geothermal doesn't represent an alternative to oil.

    That said, I would support a $ 1 billion in R&D grants to try to make geothermal more cost effective. Unfortunately, as with wind, the best sites for development for the most part aren't co-located with where most people (and most of the electricity demand) is and building transmission lines long distances to match up supply and demand is far from cheap.  

  •  hot dry rock has precipitate problems (0+ / 0-)

    and problems with loss of water. It's a good idea in concept that has yet to be implemented effectively at full scale.

    look for my DK Greenroots diary series Thursday evening. "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Thu May 13, 2010 at 01:15:43 PM PDT

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