Posted in

Researchers find West Texas region holds promise for geothermal production

Posted in

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have identified a new potential site for geothermal energy production.

After nine months of research supported by funding from the Presidio Municipal Development District, Ken Wisian – associate director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at UT Austin – and his research team have finished their preliminary geothermal assessment in Presidio County. In a May 8 presentation to the PMDD, Wisian said the county is sitting on a gold mine.

“As far as geothermal potential goes within Texas, the relatively hotter zones are along the coast (and) a little bit up in East Texas. But the far west – from about Presidio up to El Paso – appears, with our current understanding, to be about the hottest ground,” Wisian told the Business Journal on May 13.

Presidio County is a triangular region of West Texas that borders the Rio Grande. UT researchers found that roughly 2 kilometers below Earth’s surface, the benchmark temperature along the Rio Grande is 300 degrees Fahrenheit – a temperature at which geothermal energy production is not only viable but also cheaper than in places like Houston, where that same temperature is found 4 or more kilometers underground.

Shallower drilling means less overhead costs – an attractive value proposition for oil and gas companies looking to invest in geothermal energy production. Drilling represents 50-60% of the total cost of a geothermal energy project, according to Wisian, and drilling a single geothermal well can cost $1 million or more.

Presidio County is a sparsely populated region, with a total population of about 6,100 people across 3,857 square miles. Wisian noted that the county’s geothermal resources could not only help supply electricity to the entire county but could also help stabilize Texas’ electric grid.

“They are literally at the end of the ERCOT transmission grid, with essentially one main feeder line coming in,” he said of Presidio County. “So, anything you can do to improve resiliency there is a good thing because anything upstream can interrupt it.”

The UT researchers’ assessment is part of a larger movement to spur geothermal investment in Texas. UT Austin’s Energy Institute recently released a multidisciplinary report on the size and potential scale of geothermal. And, at least three Houston companies are actively working on geothermal energy projects, including Sage Geosystems Inc. and Fervo Energy Co., the latter of which announced it raised $244 million in February to accelerate the deployment of next-generation geothermal.

Geothermal energy is clean, always on and has a smaller carbon footprint than many other sources, according to the report. While overhead costs remain a barrier to widespread investment in geothermal, Wisian said, he predicts that innovation and research will soon reveal the benefits.

“The picture on what works at what price point is clarifying really fast and will clarify over the next year or two, because the handful of startups that are leading the way in this all either have or will soon test drill to prove their concepts,” Wisian said. “So over the next year, we’re going to rapidly get a much better idea of what works at what price point.”