Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Dedman College Research Earth Sciences Faculty News

SMU Researchers Find West Virginia Geothermal Spots

Dallas Innovates

Originally Posted: May 26,2017

The state of West Virginia has been home to coal-driven energy for nearly two centuries. Now, there could be another energy source directly under the Mountain State’s surface discovered by researchers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

The researchers, examining previously overlooked oil and gas data, located several hot patches of earth, some as hot as 392 degrees Fahrenheit. These hot patches are situated roughly three miles under the state’s surface. In fact, scientists believe West Virginia could be sitting on the largest geothermal hot spot in the United States.


SMU’s Geothermal Lab Coordinator Maria Richards told the Exponent Telegram in Clarksburg, West Virginia that the hot patches were discovered by studying previously overlooked oil and gas data.

“We were aware that there were hot springs along the faults in West Virginia, and there was a basic understanding that there could be some sort of higher elevated areas, but we had never had the resources to be able to go back out and look at the deeper data until we had this project from Google that allowed us to bring in the oil and gas data,” she said.

The hot-water reservoirs were once considered too deep for inexpensive production.

However, “because of oil and gas drilling and some of the newer technologies in terms of drilling and pumping, some new innovative ways of developing systems, we can now go into places where we can inject water or a fluid that will then bring out that heat,” Richards said.

Geothermal’s appeal is that it is emission-free. It also has a smaller footprint, as energy is generated from underground wells.

Additionally, this particular renewable energy can overlap with other forms of energy, such as coal.

SMU’s Richards said that hot fluid can be used to dry coal, which, in turn, helps it burn more efficiently. The cleaner the coal burns, the less coal is required to produce electricity.

“Rather than having to burn a fossil fuel to generate electricity to create heat, the goal is to use the heat from the earth to create that heat automatically without having to generate electricity,” Richards said. READ MORE