The snow is receding and the drilling of two new monitor wells for the Utah FORGE laboratory starts this week. The first well is being drilled to 1000’ and the second well will go to 3000’. Both are situated near the existing deep well, 58-32, that was completed in 2017. The new wells being much shallower, should be completed by early April, when they will be instrumented with state of the art sensors. During the drilling process, geologists and engineers will be on site, in order to provide important information about rock types and shallow groundwater resources.
For background, this phase of work involves bringing the site up to readiness to drill the two deep wells later in the year that will become the centerpiece of the FORGE laboratory. In the short term, activities are focused on:
installation of a permanent seismic monitoring network
building infrastructure (power, site office, communications hub, upgraded roads)
mini-flow injection testing and interpretation of results
acquiring additional field data to refine geoscientific understanding
convening of the Science & Technology Analysis Team (STAT).
Following a three-year, five-way competitive process, the U.S. Department of Energy has selected the Energy and Geosciences Institute (EGI) at the University of Utah to develop a geothermal laboratory near Milford, Utah. The laboratory, called Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) will focus on developing enhanced geothermal systems which could greatly expand the nation’s capacity to produce geothermal energy. The FORGE award will consist of up to $140 million over five years.
“We thank the U.S. Department of Energy for this exceptional opportunity,” said John McLennan, co-principal investigator of Utah’s FORGE team. “Having this research program in Utah would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of Utah Governor Herbert; Dr. Laura Nelson, the Governor’s Energy Advisor; the Office of Energy Development; the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration; and the Utah congressional delegation in Washington. We appreciate the assistance that we have received from State representatives and from Beaver County and from Milford. At the University, strong support has come from the President of the University and the central administration as well as from the College of Engineering and the Energy & Geoscience Institute.”
“Utah is proud to provide national leadership in advancing energy innovation that will help drive affordable, baseload, renewable power to market,” said Gov. Gary R. Herbert, in a statement from the Governor’s Office of Energy Development. “This will put Utah on the map as a world leader for geothermal research as well as expand geothermal production here in rural Utah and throughout the world.”
“The University of Utah is grateful for Senator Orrin Hatch’s leadership and his tireless efforts to advance important scientific research,” said University of Utah President Ruth Watkins, in a statement from Hatch’s office. “Because of his efforts to help secure this FORGE grant, the University of Utah will continue to lead the Nation as the preeminent institution for researching the commercial production of geothermal energy.”
The FORGE project involves drilling two 8,000-ft long wells in an area north of Milford, Beaver County, Utah. Cold water will be pumped into one well and heated by the rocks as it circulates, then will be pumped out of a second well. After the heat is extracted at the surface, the cooled, circulated water will be cycled back into the first well. The laboratory will use non-potable groundwater that cannot be used for agriculture or human consumption.
Currently, geothermal power plants need two things: hot rocks at depth, which can be found practically anywhere on the planet, and hot groundwater that can be extracted at the surface. Enhanced geothermal systems like FORGE could create their own hot groundwater, making it possible to place a geothermal power plant nearly anywhere.
Read the U.S. Department of Energy press release here.
NPR All Things Considered special on the FORGE project entitled 'The Forgotten Renewable: Geothermal Energy Production Heats Up'. Three and a half hours east of Los Angeles lies the Salton Sea, a manmade oasis in the heart of the Mojave Desert. It was created in 1905, when a canal broke and the Colorado River flooded the desert for more than a year. The Sea became a tourist hotspot in the 1950's, perfect for swimming, boating, and kayaking. But now, people are coming here looking for something else.
Jim Turner is the chief operating officer of Controlled Thermal Resources, an energy company from Australia. On a hill overlooking the Salton Sea, he points out a patch of land that will someday house his company's first power plant, named Hell's Kitchen.
"We're standing on top of what is probably the most robust geothermal resource in the United States," he explains.
Geothermal energy uses the earth's natural heat to create electricity. While there are several different ways to accomplish this, the most common is to take super-heated water from geothermal hot spots and pipe it to the surface. It then turns into steam and spins a turbine, which generates electricity.
It's completely renewable, and generates clean energy around the clock, unlike wind and solar.
"You think of renewable energy as a house, solar is the roof and the wind is the walls," says Jason Czapla, principal engineer for Controlled Thermal Resources. "But geothermal's the foundation, and what California did is it built the walls and the roof, but on wild, windy days it blows too much rain on the roof [and] that house falls down. Well, the Salton Sea is this opportunity for California to fix that."
The company wants to develop 1,000 megawatts of electricity here over the next decade. They say that could power about 800,000 homes. And for a state that's aiming to get half its electricity from renewable sources, that's no small number.
"Our development coincides with the state's target, 2030 being the ultimate goal getting to 50 percent," says Czapla. "And our goal is to build up that 1,000 megawatts and help them increase the renewable energy portfolio."
The Forgotten Renewable: Geothermal Energy Production Heats Up
Last week the Utah FORGE project completed a two- and three-dimensional seismic surveys to further characterize the project area’s buried granite reservoir. Specifically, the survey may help to identify any buried faults that might be zones of fluid flow.
Seismic surveys create subsurface images by generating, recording, and analyzing sound waves that travel through the Earth (such waves are also called seismic waves). Density changes between rock or soil layers reflect the waves back to the surface, and how quickly and strongly the waves are reflected back indicates what lies below.
For the Utah FORGE survey, vehicle-mounted vibrator plates (called vibroseis trucks) generated the source waves and a grid of geophones recorded them. The survey included two 2D surveys that were 2.5 miles long and included approximately 160 source points and geophone receivers each, and a 3D survey that covered 7 square miles and included 1,100 source points and 1,700 geophone receivers. The data is now being processed to generate a three-dimensional map of the subsurface reservoir.