DOE Leverages Fossil Energy Expertise to Develop And Explore Geothermal Energy Resources

February 7, 2011

Focusing on reducing the upfront costs of geothermal development as well as improve its effectiveness, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced plans to leverage oil and gas expertise to test the reliability and efficiency of geothermal power generation at oil and gas fields. DOE's Office of Fossil Energy and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will combine efforts to have experts test and validate low temperature geothermal power generation technologies at the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center (RMOTC) near Casper, Wyoming.

The goal of this project is to leverage the resources of both program offices to support state-of-the-art research and development into geothermal power generation technology using co-produced fluids from older oil and gas operations. This hybridization combines traditional fossil energy operations with emerging renewable technologies to evaluate low temperature geothermal power production from oil fields. Leveraging existing oil and gas infrastructure reduces the upfront costs of geothermal development. The potential to produce renewable energy from existing sites extends beyond the work with RMOTC to oil and gas fields worldwide.

DOE's Geothermal Technologies Program (GTP) is currently funding 17 projects demonstrating low temperature, co-produced and geopressured resources in different geological conditions to help enable online capacity of 3 gigawatts, approximately the capacity to power 2.4 million homes a year from these resources by 2020. RMOTC received funding from GTP in 2009 to develop infrastructure for future geothermal testing at the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 3 (NPR-3).

NPR-3, located near Midwest, Wyoming, produces oil and 45,000 barrels of 190o F water per day from the Tensleep formation and 28,000 barrels of 210o F water per day from the Madison formation. The Tensleep hot water was previously treated as a waste stream. Then a test conducted with Ormat Technologies, Inc. of Reno, Nev., extracted heat from the water to operate a 250-kilowatt generator. To date, the total produced power from the unit is 1,918 megawatt hours from 10.9 million barrels of co-produced hot water. This on-going test was the first in the world to use the co-produced hot water to generate electricity in an operating oil field and will continue through 2011. There are a large number of oil and gas wells in the United States that produce hot water as well as hydrocarbon products, generally at temperatures below 220° F, which are capable of generating renewable geothermal power.

RMOTC is located within NPR-3, 35 miles north of Casper, Wyoming. NPR-3, known historically as Teapot Dome, is operated by the Department of Energy as a producing oil field and a test site for new energy technologies. The 10,000-acre facility hosts traditional oil and gas testing as well as field research into renewable technologies, including wind, solar, and low-temperature geothermal. It is managed through DOE's Office of Fossil Energy.

The Department of Energy's Geothermal Technologies Program works to establish geothermal energy as a significant contributor to the nation's future electricity generation by partnering with industry, academia, and the national laboratories to discover new geothermal resources, develop innovative discovery and generation methods, and demonstrate high-impact geothermal technologies. For more information on the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center visit the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center website. For more information on the Geothermal Technologies Program visit the Geothermal Technologies Program website.