Geothermal power from oil wells

image credit: popsci.com

There are over one million abandoned oil and gas wells around the world, many of which contain hot water that can be used to generate electricity or hydraulic power. This is especially true for Canada as preliminary estimates suggest that the potential energy locked in Alberta’s geothermal waters is the equivalent of two to five trillion barrels of oil.

Geothermal waters found in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin represent a new form of abundant and cheap energy sequestered in underground aquifers. The renewable energy stored in these subsurface aquifers is sufficient to power geothermal heat pumps and heat exchangers to generate electricity.

The Alberta Geological Survey and the Alberta Research Council have teamed up to study the technical and economic feasibility of harnessing Alberta’s low temperature (10 C to 40 C) to medium temperature (40 C to 140 C) geothermal resources.

Dr. Rick Richardson, P.Geol., former manager of the Alberta Geological Survey, estimates that even one per cent of the energy contained in the subsurface aquifers could dwarf the remaining oil and gas reserves in the basin. – Alberta Gets Into Hot Water

Alberta has long been Canada’s primary energy producer, but it’s becoming a growing environmental concern as the Athabasca oil sands are being developed. With 175 billion barrels of proven oil resources in the oil sands, the mining is expected to go on for at least 25 years. If this region was tapped for geothermal power, it could last for hundreds of years without burning a drop of the oil. Power can be extracted with standard generating equipment using closed loop refrigerant gas compressors and turbines, another option is Stirling engine generators. These geothermal stations would run quietly day and night, producing clean power for our grid. There’s no fuel to supply, no waste to dispose of, and no air pollution.

There are concerns surrounding this technology however, such as the rate the heat is replenished to the reservoirs, and the physical state of the abandoned oil wells. With over 120,000 non-producing or abandoned oil wells in this area of Alberta, each with temperatures up to 99° Celsius (210° Fahrenheit), the there’s a very good chance of finding a lot of viable geothermal sources just waiting to be tapped. If the economic benefits are looked at in terms of energy value, then with oil prices sitting at $70/barrel there’s potentially between $140,000,000,000,000 and $350,000,000,000,000 (That’s trillion, with a T!) worth of clean energy in the ground.
As with any alternative energy system, it’s best to have a diversified portfolio of sources. Geothermal is one source, along with wind and solar, that can help Canada achieve sustainable energy independence.

Geothermal Oil Wells – Pure Energy Systems Wiki

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Steve holds a degree in Environmental Engineering Technology from Humber College in Toronto, is a LEED Accredited Professional and a Certified Sustainable Building Advisor. He currently lives in Victoria BC and works as a green building consultant specializing in residential projects.

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