Geothermal, Coming to Hot Rocks Near You, Sooner than You Think

February 3, 2023

And by “near you”, I mean, just about anywhere, if you drill deep enough, you’ll find hot rocks.
Thanks to the oil and gas industry, we are damn good at drilling now, with a lot of shit-hot young engineers and entrepeneurial Oil/gas veterans looking for an offramp from a dead end industry.

American Prospect:

But geothermal might be about to smash conventional growth forecasts, with the backing of a powerful ally: the oil and gas industry.

Along with the fact that Exxon pioneered lithium-ion battery research in the 1970s, it is one of the sweeter ironies of the environmental movement that oil and gas companies prepared geothermal technology for economic viability at scale.

Over the course of the last decade’s shale boom, oil field drilling companies led a revolution in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) techniques. They perfected long, spindly pipes and fine-tuned self-adjusting diamond-cutter drill bits.

Those technologies, which can endure high temperatures and shoot water through rock, have already solved engineering challenges for geothermal. Rather than relying on places where there is a naturally occurring confluence of water, heat, and porous rock, geothermal developers now have the ability to drill into solid rock, inject water at high pressure, and collect the heated water.

Geothermal isn’t just a freak offshoot of the fossil fuel industry, however. They could be ongoing allies. Oil and gas companies, from oil field services firms to investor-owned utilities, are considering the advantages of a geothermal boom. Utilities could potentially retool gas pipelinesas clean geothermal networks, and the oil field services industry could see reason to sell its proprietary technology to geothermal developers.

Dry oil fields could be repurposed as geothermal wells, and those oil fields, like many geothermal sites, are rich in prized minerals like lithium and manganese. That could help solve the up-front cost problem, as companies seeking those minerals will offer advance market guarantees.

Through know-how and existing technology transfer alone, shale-oil drilling technology could reduce geothermal costs by 20 to 43 percent, according to a new study published by the University of Texas at Austin. That study finds that current projections of geothermal growth, which linger in the single or low double digits, undershoot dramatically.

“Much like the rise of unconventionals in oil and gas, whose meteoric ascent largely took the world by surprise, geothermal is poised for similar, exponential growth, should technology development and transfer follow the footsteps of the shale boom,” the authors predict. Even at current prices, the study finds, geothermal is poised to grow substantially as a share of Texas’s energy mix.

Project Innerspace – University of Texas:

The increasing engagement of oil and gas entities in geothermal is both reflected in and explained by outcomes of the study. Authors report that oil and gas technology and knowledge transfer into geothermal is projected to deliver 20 to 43 percent in cost savings to geothermal, using existing technologies in use in the oil and gas industry today, and that nearly 70% of oil and gas entities engaged with the study reported that there are no geothermal related technical challenges thatthe oil and gas industry cannot solve.

“As an energy technology company, Baker Hughes has supported the geothermal sector for more than 40 years, providing technology and expertise for some of the world’s most innovative projects. Baker Hughes continues its strategic focus on new energy frontiers, including geothermal — launching into the next 40 years and beyond,” said Ajit Menon, Baker Hughes Vice President for Geothermal.

Researchers in the study calculated multiple growth scenarios for geothermal development, both globally and in Texas, placed in the context of the scale of the oil and gas industry. They concluded that drilling 1.4 million wells globally between 2030 and 2050 could meet 77 percent of the world’s projected electricity demand, while enabling Texas to decarbonize 100 percent of its grid. “The outcomes of this study are big – but so is the oil and gas industry – and the role of the industry is what has been the missing link in prior assessments about geothermal and its potential to scale,” noted Jamie Beard, Principal Investigator and Editor of the study. “To achieve the outcomes reported, we would need an Apollo-style mobilization of effort globally, but that is what climate change requires of us. We’ve done Apollo before – let’s do it again.”


4 Responses to “Geothermal, Coming to Hot Rocks Near You, Sooner than You Think”

  1. “To achieve the outcomes reported, we would need an Apollo-style mobilization of effort globally, but that is what climate change requires of us.


    We didn’t need an Apollo-style mobilization for the fracking revolution.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      Fracking required a quarter century of Federal investment in research, and once private interests could take over, it required so much money from Wallstreet they were talking about it single-handedly tanking the global economy if prices didn’t rise. ‘Fortunately’, Putin invaded Ukraine…

      • Putin invading Ukraine? Fracking’s been going on for over a decade! It’s the biggest energy revolution ever. Obama would likely have lost reelection without it.

        • John Oneill Says:

          It dropped energy prices in the US, but financially it was a disaster for the investors – they lost over $300 billion, as new finds kept pushing gas prices down. It was claimed to have reduced CO2 emissions, with gas plants undercutting coal, but methane levels in the atmosphere rose at the same time, at unprecedented rates. Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, over the medium term. It also undercut nuclear plants, which received no credit for low emissions or reliability – even though gas turbines in some ISOs were given capacity payments for keeping a few days worth of oil on site.
          Now there’s more Liquefied Natural Gas export capacity, methane is no longer a stranded, must-sell fuel, as US producers can profit from the much higher prices overseas. They should still be at a disadvantage compared to traditional producers with access to a pipeline, and that aren’t under embargo.

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