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SMU geothermal scientist Maria Richards to guide global energy organization

An energy source that covers the whole gamut – from producing electricity for industries, to even cooling homes

Maria Richards, coordinator of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, has been named president-elect of the Geothermal Resources Council. She will become the 26th president of the global energy organization beginning in 2017.

Richards has been at the forefront of SMU’s renowned geothermal energy research for more than a decade, and the University’s mapping of North American geothermal resources is considered the baseline for U.S. geothermal energy exploration. SMU’s Conference on Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas fields, which Richards directs, is pioneering the transition of oil and gas fields to electricity-producing systems by harnessing waste heat and fluids.

“The Geothermal Resources Council is a tremendous forum for expanding ideas about geothermal exploration and technology related to this commonly overlooked source of energy provided by the Earth,” Richards said. “It’s a great opportunity for educating people about an energy source that covers the whole gamut – from producing electricity for industries, to reducing our electricity consumption with direct-use applications, to even cooling our homes.”

“This also is a unique occasion for me to encourage and mentor young women to participate in the sciences throughout their careers and get involved in leadership roles,” said Richards, who will be the GRC’s first woman president.

Development of many forms of renewable energy can lose momentum when the price-per-barrel of oil is low, but Richards expects the current low oil prices to drive more interest in geothermal development.

Today, sedimentary basins that have been “fracked” for oil and gas production create reservoir pathways that can later be used for heat extraction. Fluids boil after being pushed through the hot reservoir pathways, producing electricity-generating steam. In addition to the geothermal energy, the equipment used in active oil and gas fields generates heat, which also can be tapped to produce electricity.

“Oil and gas drilling rig counts are down,” Richards said. “The industry has tightened its work force and honed its expertise. The opportunity to produce a new revenue stream during an economically challenging period, through the addition of relatively simple technology at the wellhead, may be the best chance we’ve had in years to gain operators’ attention.”

SMU’s seventh international geothermal energy conference and workshop is scheduled for May 18 to 20 on the Dallas campus. Designed to reach a broad audience, from the service industry to reservoir engineers, “Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields,” is an opportunity for oil and gas industry professionals to connect with the geothermal and waste-heat industries to build momentum. The conference is a platform for networking with attendees from all aspects of project development. Presentations will highlight reservoir topics from flare gas usage to induced seismicity and will address new exploration opportunities, including offshore sites in the eastern United States. Information and registration is available at

Richards’ projects at SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory vary from computer-generated temperature-depth maps for to on-site geothermal exploration of the volcanic islands in the Northern Mariana Islands. Along with Cathy Chickering Pace, Richards coordinates the SMU Node of the National Geothermal Data System funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Past research includes the Enhanced Geothermal System potential of the Cascades, Eastern Texas Geothermal Assessment, Geothermal Map of North America, Dixie Valley Synthesis, and the resource assessment for the MIT Report on the Future of Geothermal Energy.

Richards has previously served on the Geothermal Resources Council Board of Directors and was chair of the Outreach Committee in 2011‐12. She is also a Named Director of the 2015 Board for the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance (TREIA).

Richards holds a Master of Science degree in Physical Geography from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a B.S. in Environmental Geography from Michigan State University. — Kimberly Cobb

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see

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Earth & Climate Energy & Matter Researcher news SMU In The News Technology

Oil & Gas: Geothermal in the oil field, the next emerging market

One of the petroleum industry’s major sources for industry news has covered the emergence of geothermal energy from existing oil and gas fields as a potential source of power generation.

The June 20 article “Geothermal in the oil field, the next emerging market” provides context for the emerging technology that is making geothermal production possible. The article cites SMU’s annual geothermal conference as a source of more information about geothermal production.

The SMU Geothermal Laboratory hosted its fifth international conference dedicated to “Geothermal Energy Utilization Associated with Oil & Gas Development” in mid-June on the SMU campus.


Oil & Gas Magazine

The petroleum industry is at a crossroads. A perfect storm of declining reserves, aging oilfields, increasing costs for exploration, operating, and decommissioning, volatile oil prices, and the uptick trending of “green” energy — it has never been more important to make the most out of existing reserves, assets and infrastructure.

Geothermal energy is an emerging worldwide energy market. Geothermal often gets overlooked in a world of PV, CSP, wind and hydro; however, geothermal offers more reliability (average 95 per cent capacity factor), lower carbon emissions and lower maintenance costs compared to these more “glamorous” renewable energy sources.

Geothermal has some major barriers to entry to the mainstream energy market. The largest barriers include the high-initial capital costs related to drilling and constructing new geothermal wells, long payback periods, and the risk associated with unknown formation performance when drilling in a new area.

Using proven technology, expertise and reservoir data from the petroleum industry, this unlikely partnership can provide a springboard for the geothermal industry to enter the mainstream renewable energy market, while at the same time benefiting the petroleum industry. If the initial capital costs for drilling geothermal wells could be reduced by utilizing existing oil field infrastructure, while also minimizing risk by using existing oilfield data, the barriers to entry for geothermal suddenly come tumbling down.

Recent advancements in energy conversion technologies and Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technology have made incorporating geothermal in the oil field a viable and exciting emerging-energy market. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funded several projects demonstrating electricity generation from geothermal fluids, produced from active, abandoned, or marginal oil and gas wells. Federal tax incentives, the Department of Treasury Cash Grant and the DOE Loan Guarantee program combined with aggressive state renewable portfolio goals are expected to drive growth in the geothermal industry in the near term.

Read the full story.

Earth & Climate Energy & Matter Researcher news SMU In The News Technology

Natl Geographic: Can Geothermal Energy Pick Up Real Steam?

In a story about using the potential of geothermal heat from beneath the Earth’s surface as a source of clean, renewable energy, National Geographic Daily News tapped the expertise of SMU geophysicist David Blackwell.

Blackwell is one of the foremost experts on geothermal energy. He heads SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory and his decades-long research led him to map the nation’s geothermal energy potential. The work of Blackwell and SMU Geothermal Lab coordinator Maria Richards recently received extensive news coverage after they released research showing vast geothermal energy potential beneath West Virginia.

Science journalist David LaGesse interviewed Blackwell for the Dec. 28 article “Can Geothermal Energy Pick Up Real Steam?


By David LaGesse
For National Geographic News

This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.

Steam rising from a valley just north of San Francisco reminded early explorers of the gates of hell. Others saw the potential healing powers of the naturally heated water, and still others realized the steam could drive turbines to generate electricity.

It’s been 50 years since power plants began running off the pools of steam that sit under California’s Mayacamas Mountains. The pioneering plants in the area known as The Geysers highlighted the promise of geothermal energy, internal heat from the Earth with vastly greater energy potential than that of fossil fuels. But geothermal, virtually free of carbon emissions and more reliable than intermittent wind and solar energy, still provides only a small slice of the world’s energy.

Now amid the rush to alternative energies, geothermal advocates sense a new chance to mine the heat rising from Earth’s white-hot core. They plan to generate man-made steam by pumping water deep underground into hot, dry rocks in what’s called enhanced or engineered geothermal systems. They also despair that governments and businesses aren’t investing enough in the sophisticated technology needed to unlock the deep-seated energy.

“There’s a window of opportunity where geothermal can play a part in our energy future, and we risk missing it,” says David Blackwell, a geophysicist at Southern Methodist University.

Read the full story.

Earth & Climate Energy & Matter Researcher news SMU In The News Technology

Fast Company: How Google Cash Helped Find Geothermal Energy in West Virginia

The business innovation magazine Fast Company took note of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory‘s recent report on the large green-energy geothermal resource underground in West Virginia. The research was funded by

SMU geologist David Blackwell leads the lab and its research.

The Oct. 8 article “How Google Cash Helped Find Geothermal Energy in West Virginia” by reporter Ariel Schwartz notes that’s foray into geothermal is the latest step in its renewable energy investments.


By Ariel Schwartz
Fast Company
Google has already spent a lot of money on renewable energy investments. Now the search giant can be credited with bringing green energy to a state that mostly relies on coal-fired power. A project from Southern Methodist University, funded by a $481,500 grant from, has found that West Virginia has 78% more geothermal energy than previously estimated. That means the state could double its electrical generation capacity without bringing more coal power online.

Now we know that West Virginia could produce up to 18,890 MW of clean energy if just two percent of its geothermal energy resources were used. The state currently has a generating capacity of 16,350 MW — and 97% of that comes from coal.

Read the full story.

Journalist Robert Wilonsky at The Dallas Observer also covered the SMU Geothermal Lab’s release of the West Virginia mother lode of geothermal resource in his Oct. 7 Unfair Park entry: Hot Hot Heat: SMU Researchers Find West Virginia’s Just Leaking Geothermal Energy.

Wilonsky quotes Maria Richards, coordinator of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory, saying “they’ve discovered what could be enough Earth-made energy to potentially support ‘commercial baseload geothermal energy production.'”


By Robert Wilonsky
The Dallas Observer

At month’s end, researchers from SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory — among ’em, David Blackwell, Hamilton Professor of Geophysics and director of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory — will go to Sacramento for the 2010 Geothermal Resources Council annual meeting. There, the trio will present a much more detailed version of this report just posted to the Hilltop’s website, in which Blackwell, grad student Zachary Frone and geothermal expert Maria Richards say that in the western part of the Appalachian Mountains, they’ve discovered what could be enough Earth-made energy to potentially support “commercial baseload geothermal energy production.”

Read the full story.

The international news wire service Reuters also covered the report’s release with a story by Danny Bradbury of “Google Warms to West Virginia’s Vast Geothermal Potential.”


By Danny Bradbury

A Google-funded project has discovered a large geothermal resource under West Virginia that could more than double the electrical generation capacity of the high-profile coal state.

The research, carried out by the Southern Methodist University and funded with a $481,500 grant from Google’s philanthropic arm, found that there is 78 percent more geothermal energy under the state than originally estimated.

The researchers calculated that if 2 percent of the available geothermal energy could be harnessed, the state could produce up to 18,890 megawatts (MW) of clean energy.

The study was conducted with more detailed mapping and more data points than had been used in previous research. For example, 1,455 new thermal data points were added to existing geothermal maps using oil, gas and water wells.

The research team found that most of the high-temperature points are located in the eastern part of the state.

“The presence of a large, baseload, carbon-neutral and sustainable energy resource in West Virginia could make an important contribution to enhancing the U.S. energy security and for decreasing CO2 emissions,” the report concluded.

Read the full story.

Other coverage:

Earth & Climate Energy & Matter Researcher news SMU In The News Technology

Science: West Virginia is geothermal hot spot, says SMU Geothermal Lab

Science, the international weekly science journal, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has covered the geothermal mapping research of Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Laboratory, led by SMU geologist David Blackwell and funded by

The Oct. 4 article “West Virginia is a Geothermal Hot Spot” by science journalist Eli Kintisch quotes Maria Richards, coordinator of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory, saying discovery of vast geothermal bounty in the coal state was a unexpected. “Nobody expected West Virginia to show up as a hot spot,” Richards is quoted.


By Eli Kintisch
Researchers have uncovered the largest geothermal hot spot in the eastern United States. According to a unique collaboration between Google and academic geologists, West Virginia sits atop several hot patches of Earth, some as warm as 200 degrees Celsius and as shallow as 5 kilometers. If engineers are able to tap the heat, the state could become a producer of green energy for the region.

In 2004, researchers at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, and colleagues created the Geothermal Map of North America. The map charted the potential for geothermal energy nationwide. Two years ago, the philanthropic arm of the search engine giant, hired the SMU scientists to update the map.

The group analyzed temperature data from oil and gas firms that no one had bothered to map. Those data were collected via single thermometer readings on the end of drilling equipment, but the readings were artificially low because of water used to cool and wash the equipment. So the SMU team corrected the readings according to the rock type that was being drilled. Then the researchers estimated the temperatures of adjacent rock layers according to their geologic properties.

The work revealed surprising results for West Virginia, a state that had only four data points in the 2004 map. The effort added measurements from more than 1450 wells in the state. The warm spots were found at depths of 3 to 8 kilometers over an 18,700-square-kilometer area. By comparison, geothermal hot spots in Nevada reach 200 degrees Celsius at 2 kilometers below the surface, and steam produced from them runs turbines to create electricity. Iceland, meanwhile, has 200 degrees Celsius temperatures just below the surface and uses warm water to heat buildings and showers throughout Reykjavik and elsewhere.

Read the full story.