This recent San Antonio Express-News article highlights that Texas is not only leading the nation with wind and solar power, but also geothermal. I bet Green Peace and the other extreme environmental groups are in shock that Texas, the oil and gas capitol of the world, could be leading the charge to green energy as well. Texas is the prime example of the “All of the Above” energy philosophy, and it is working.
Picture Courtesy of SA Express-News
Yesterday’s oil wildcatters and now becoming today’s pioneers in green energy. Who said that old dogs could not learn new tricks.
Miles below Texas are zones of hot, pressurized brine that for decades posed a liability to drillers and rendered oil and gas wells worthless.
Now, new wildcatters are going after those same pools in the name of green energy. They want to use the pressure and heat to make electricity.
If successful, they will introduce a new source of clean power to the grid that has the potential to exceed all other sources.
According to a report by the Southern Methodist University Geothermal Laboratory, the hot water and pressure between 8,000 and 25,000 feet below Texas could supply more than 100 times the state’s 2008 total electric consumption for well over a century.
The concept and technology of using the hot water from old oil and gas wells have been around in various forms since the 1960s. Since then, more than half a million oil and gas wells have been drilled in Texas.
The challenge always has been to make electricity production economical from those wells.
This summer, a Houston company will give it a try at a well in Liberty County. Also, a San Antonio company is working on financing a project to produce more than 100 megawatts in 12 months.
They and a handful of other companies have the support of the federal and state governments. A new state law provides tax incentives to companies producing electricity from oil and gas wells.
The Texas Public Utility Commission is working on rules to kick-start the geothermal market by requiring utilities to buy more clean energy. The commission did the same thing for wind power development, which is one reason Texas now is a national leader in wind energy production.
The federal government is issuing grants, including several in Texas, to accelerate the development of the geothermal market.
“There are millions of wells across the country and hundreds of thousands in Texas,” said Tim Reinhardt, who specializes in low-temperature geothermal development at the U.S. Energy Department. “We feel that this is a great thing.”
Southern Methodist University received $5 million to create a national geothermal database cataloging the millions of wells drilled across the country that could be used to generate electricity.
The U.S. Energy Department is investing another $5 million in El Paso County for the research and development of a geothermal system using new wells to produce electricity for Fort Bliss. The work is part of the post’s effort to become self-sufficient.
“It’s like gambling,” said Jon Lear, who works for a contractor on the Fort Bliss project. “You put a lot of chips out on a lot of different squares.”
This summer, George Alcorn, a third-generation oil and gas man, is setting out to prove he is worth betting on as he starts a demonstration project on a well outside Houston.
In 2008, with oil prices at record lows, Alcorn told his father he was doing the unthinkable and going green by opening up abandoned gas wells, not for the gas but for the 250-degree water that would gush to the surface. The hot liquid then would be used to create steam and turn a turbine before being injected back into the earth.
“I think a lot of guys his age and generation just can’t fathom such an event,” Alcorn said of his 77-year-old father. “He’s old school.”
Alcorn plans to start reconfiguring an abandoned 13,000-foot-deep gas well in Liberty County. He calls the well a “typical well,” in that it doesn’t have exceptionally high temperatures or pressure. The idea is that if geothermal power can work on this well, this same technology could be applied to thousands of others.
He has the backing of a $1.5 million matching federal grant and expects to be producing about half a megawatt by December — enough to power about 75 homes.
It’s not much in comparison to the hundreds of megawatts produced by geothermal plants on the West Coast. But those operations are built on top of or next to natural hot springs.
Texas does not have those kinds of formations. What it does have are more 500,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 1960.