Earth & Climate Energy & Matter Events Technology

SMU conference: Geothermal energy from oil, gas wells

Enhancing existing oil and gas wells for the purpose of producing electricity from the Earth’s heat will be the focus of an annual international geothermal conference at SMU in November. The conference is coordinated by the SMU Geothermal Laboratory and SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences.

Geothermal Energy Utilization Associated with Oil and Gas Development” will connect landowners with technical, operational and financial players interested in embarking on a geothermal energy project. The two-day conference is set for Nov. 3-4.

Geothermal energy can be extracted from well fluids using compact turbines with binary fluids, according to Maria Richards, program coordinator for the SMU Geothermal Laboratory. The systems are now sized to fit a single well or multiple wells with approximately 120 degrees Fahrenheit temperature differential between produced and cooling temperatures.

This is a good year to start a project, Richards says. In addition to federal passage of the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit, there’s also federal stimulus money available for renewable energy projects. Texas and other oil-producing states with thousands of existing oil and gas wells are uniquely positioned for economical geothermal development, says David Blackwell, one of the country’s foremost authorities on geothermal energy and a professor at SMU who has advised the geothermal industry for the past 40 years. Projects are being submitted now for Texas demonstration sites in response to a request for proposals from the Department of Energy. Proposals are due in July.

“Geothermal energy produces clean, renewable electrical power that is considered a base load source since it produces 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Richards says. “This capability to generate power gives a new revenue stream to low-yield producers with high-water volume and a reason to keep them producing.”

The conference is sponsored by Pratt & Whitney, SMU Cox Executive Education, the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, Perma Works LLC, Telios, the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, Gulf Coast Green Energy, Hilcorp Energy Co., and Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.

SMU Geothermal Laboratory researchers recently completed an assessment of geothermal resources for the Texas State Energy Conservation Office. It found that the volume of geothermal heat in the ground beneath Texas could supply the state with clean, renewable, affordable electricity for hundreds of years. Some of the state’s largest urban areas sit atop the vast regional geothermal zone, which extends east from Interstate 35 beneath Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, Corpus Christi and Kilgore.

Over the past 12 months, SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory has received a record number of requests from private entities asking for help in developing commercial projects, Blackwell says.

Pioneers in assessing the nation’s geothermal resources, Blackwell and Richards revealed the potential for widespread geothermal development with their Geothermal Map of North America, published in 2004 by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. The two also helped author a 2007 study led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology that found geothermal energy could supply a substantial amount of the energy the United States will need in the future, likely at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact.

Geothermal projects and research, while cutting-edge, are not new for SMU, Richards says.

“When I talk about the SMU Geothermal Laboratory at a professional meeting, I mention the fact that it’s been around for 40 years,” she says. “It’s not just a start-up because of a trend. We’ve been doing this for a long time — and we’re still at the leading edge.”

Related links:
What, how, where: Geothermal energy from oil wells
Geothermal heat: Will Earth’s ‘hot rocks’ become new Texas tea?
SMU Geothermal Laboratory
Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences
Pratt & Whitney
SMU Cox Executive Education
Texas State Energy Conservation Office
Perma Works LLC
Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America
Gulf Coast Green Energy
Hilcorp Energy Co.
Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.

By Margaret Allen

Senior research writer, SMU Public Affairs