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New DOE Geothermal Research Initiative on Use of Co-Produced Water from Oilfields

The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced a new collaboration between the Office of Fossil Energy (FE) and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Geothermal Technologies Program (GTP) to demonstrate low-temperature geothermal electrical power generation systems using oilfield fluids produced at the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center (RMOTC).

The objective of this multi-year collaboration is to demonstrate the versatility, reliability, and widespread deployment capabilities of low temperature geothermal electricity production systems that work off of the co-produced water from oilfield operations. These systems turn otherwise discarded water into an energy resource. The electricity produced is utilized to power field production equipment, which offsets purchased electricity; other applications are being explored.

Under this collaboration, EERE is providing funding for the purchase of a low temperature geothermal electricity producing unit from Ormat Technologies, Inc. RMOTC will showcase its capability to serve as an optimal testing facility for geothermal technologies, while enhancing knowledge sharing between the geothermal and petroleum industries. With a producing oilfield and long standing expertise with fossil energy, this project provides a unique opportunity for FE to contribute its experience to emerging renewable energy fields.

Ultimately the GTP hopes to collect operational and performance data for various climates and system configurations. This information will be freely available, educating the industry and public about the high potential of geothermal renewable energy from co-produced water. With an estimated 10 barrels of hot water produced along with each barrel of oil in the United States, there is significant resource potential for this technology, according to DOE.

This joint venture supports the integration of traditional and emerging energy technologies in a way that serves to generate both discussion and action around new strategies for energy generation. Collaboration between diverse programs of FE and EERE is good for DOE and provides enormous benefit by developing the nation’s energy supply. This project will bridge a gap between two disciplines that can both benefit from synergistic activities. Low temperature geothermal sources and co-produced fluids hold significant promise for electrical generation in the near term.



Is co-produced water a new (cleaner) name for waste polluted water.

Would the planned thermal use remove some or all of the harmful chemicals from such waste water?

The Alberta tar sands operations have plenty of it (billions of tonnes) in their tailing ponds.


Good intentions here, but I don't know how practical an oil-site geothermal system would be. Drilling companies are only actually drilling at well sites for a short period of time...wells are capped and pipelines are established & then staff are only out to the sites periodically for inspections. A geothermal system would either have to have a "set it & forget it" feature for after the drilling crews are long gone, or it would have to be cheap & easy enough for the crews to set up & use without having to be pre-occupied with its maintenance. Benefits would have to outweight the costs for the drilling companies to want to buy & operate a geothermal system at their well sites. Maybe someone will come up with something eventually.

Henry Gibson

For obvious reasons the lack of energy at oil wells has not been a big problem so why bother to extract a relatively small amount of heat from the hot water that may come up with hot oil. Natural gas also comes up with oil and has been frequently wasted with simple burning.

It is perhaps a better use of the heat and water to just pump the hot water down holes to help enhance the flow of oil and to build up pressure in the oil formation.

Still it is very interesting to find out how much heat is in oil fields. The contaminated water should be returned to where it came from. I wonder what deep exploratory wells would find underneath the bitumen formations in the tar sands of Canada. The tar sands seem to be just an oilfield with the top rock removed.



In the life of many oil fields, they starts out producing mostly oil, gradually the percentage shifts to increasing amounts of "Water Fraction". At some point it is producing so much water and so little oil, it is no longer economic to continue. So the well is shut down and abandoned.

With this technology, a crew can bring the electricity generator and bolt it onto an existing well. No exploration costs or risks, and start producing electricity 24 x 7, and the oil produced is now the bi-product.

The abandoned wells in west Texas alone could deliver over 5000MW (Or 5 large nuclear power plants) of base load power, quickly with a modest investment and minimal emissions and no nuclear waste. According to a recent study by the Geothermal Energy Association.

Nationwide there are over 2 Million abandoned oil wells. If this technology is applied, a significant amount of electricity can be generated using existing technology.


mapson4 - the way you've described it is not how it's described in the news release...but it'd be great if they can get a lot of energy from all those abandoned wells.

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