A Workshop to Promote a Collaborative Initiative to Develop Higher Enthalpy
Geothermal Systems in the USA
Conveners: Wilfred Elders, Joseph Moore and Alex Schriener
October 13-16, 2013
Lake Arrowhead, CA
DOSECC (a consortium of US universities interested in research involving subsurface sampling, measurement and
observation) is actively seeking to engage a wider earth science community by sponsoring six workshops on different
topics where the science program requires drilling (see http://csdworkshops.geo.arizona.edu). The hope is that this
initiative will help lead to a better integrated US Continental Scientific Drilling Program that will strengthen scientific
drilling in the USA and internationally interact in more fruitful ways with the International Continental Scientific Drilling
Program (ICDP - see www.icdp.org).
As a member of the Science Planning Committee of DOSECC, Elders was asked to organize a workshop under the
general theme of "Energy and the Environment". However, because this topic is too broad in scope to be covered in a
single meeting, he proposed focusing on his area of expertise, i.e. high-enthalpy geothermal systems, and, because
of his experience with the Salton Sea Scientific Drilling Project (SSSDP) and the Iceland Deep Drilling Project
(IDDP), focusing on fostering mutually advantageous collaborations on this topic between Industry, Academia and
Federal and State Agencies. Such collaborations are necessary because the study of active high-temperature
hydrothermal systems requires drilling and sampling wells whose costs far exceed budgets normally available to
academic scientists. The geothermal industry drills wells and carries out goal-oriented studies of them, both in-house
or using consultants and service companies. In many cases these wells could potentially yield additional information
of great interest to the academic geoscience community that would not normally be part of the basic economic
assessment and development of the resource.
The scenario for productive collaboration that worked very successfully for the IDDP was that a developer made a well
available during drilling and a science team provided the resources to acquire and study samples and data additional
to those normally acquired by the operator. Thus the scientists were able to do research that otherwise would have
been impossible and the operator gained a great deal of additional information and interpretation that otherwise would
not have been available (see www.iddp.is). The IDDP is investigating the economic feasibility of producing electricity
from supercritical geothermal reservoirs. In 2009 to test this concept an industry-government consortium planned to
drilled a deep well in the volcanic caldera of Krafla in NE Iceland. However drilling had to be terminated at 2.1 km
depth when 900°C rhyolite magma flowed into the well. The resultant well was highly productive, estimated to be
capable of generating >35 MWe of dry superheated steam at a well-head temperature of ~450°C. In the future it may
be feasible to produce energy directly from magma. In 2014 the IDDP plans to drill to a depth 4.5 km in the
Reykjanes geothermal field in SW Iceland to renew the search for supercritical geothermal resources.
Plans for deep drilling to explore for deeper, much higher enthalpy, geothermal resources are already underway in the
Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand (Project HADES), and in Japan where the "Beyond Brittle Project" (Project
JBBP) is an ambitious program attempting to create an enhanced geothermal system (EGS) in ~500oC rocks.
However in the USA there is no comparable national program to develop such resources. There is a significant
undeveloped potential for developing high-enthalpy geothermal systems in the western USA, Hawaii and Alaska.
Academia/Industry/Government Agency Collaboration for Continental Scientific Drilling:
Such collaborations may be the only way to fund large and very expensive projects as was exemplified by the
success of the Salton Sea Scientific Drilling Project (SSSDP), for which I was the chief scientist. This involved
collaboration between an industrial partner, DOE, NSF, USGS, and university scientists
Among the potential advantages of academic scientists and government agencies collaborating with industry are
- "Holes of Opportunity" i.e. boreholes sited and drilled by industry for its own purposes;
- large and flexible funding sources;
- industry data bases relevant to site selection, etc.;
- industry leasing and permitting;
- industry technical expertise, equipment, and infrastructure;
Among the reasons why such collaborations are not more common are:
- it is more complicated and time consuming;
- the industry partner usually has operational control so that scientists may not be in control of selection of depths
and frequency of sampling and of down hole experiments;
- there is a potential for restriction on publishing propriety data;
- it requires coordination of multiple funding sources and timetables.
To overcome these disadvantages requires good faith by all parties, patience, flexibility, mutual understanding,
back-up plans, and an optimism that continued progress will overcome obstacles to collaboration. This requires
having clearly enunciated and understandable science goals, seizing opportunities, building working relationships
based on trust, stressing benefits to both parties, being flexible, and educating funding agencies about timetable
constraints and drilling contingencies. This can be done as we demonstrated with both the SSSDP and the IDDP.
Workshop summary findings can be downloaded here.
Workshop presentations can be downloaded here.
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