Geothermal energy currently plays a small role in meeting the world’s energy demand, and commercial production has been mainly focused on high-temperature, often volcanic formations that limit development to certain regions of the globe. Conventional geothermal resources require drilling of challenging high-temperature wells that can be expensive and risky. For over a decade, research and discussions explored opportunities to produce geothermal electricity and/or heat from existing lower temperature sedimentary formations, yet there is still no commercial development.
Here, we review recent projects in sedimentary basins to answer the question, why is there limited growth in sedimentary geothermal energy production? We conclude that there are two primary hurdles limiting commercial growth in sedimentary basins: lack of necessary expertise and geothermal knowledge. This undoubtedly leads to plugging of geothermal conversion candidate wells. Instead, wells should be screened for geothermal power potential prior to final plugging and abandonment. Using late-stage, shut-in, or unplugged holes removes the significant cost of drilling new wells, thereby increasing potential profitability. Using a screening methodology and tool, such as the one developed by Petrolern, reduces the knowledge base necessary for project evaluation by integrating modules defining critical parameters for the Reservoir, Borehole, Surface System, Environment, Infrastructure, and Economics. Our projections from sample conceptual conversion projects indicate repurposing some oil and gas wells to geothermal heat and power production is profitable with internal rate of returns (IRR) in the range of 7 to 27% and sample costs of produced electricity in the range of 3-5 ¢(US)/kWh. Many petroleum companies do not consider geothermal energy as a possibility for late-stage wells. Conversion of wells to geothermal energy provides the opportunity for continued revenue and indicates commitment to green energy solutions. Screening of wells for alternative use such as geothermal energy should be part of the end-of-life evaluation for all hydrocarbon wells.
Speaker bio: Joseph Batir, Ph.D. is a Senior Geothermal Geoscientist specializing in thermal resource characterization in sedimentary basins and geospatial analysis for greenfield resource exploration. His expertise is thermal resource characterization through surface and subsurface geospatial analysis, play fairway mapping, and thermal numerical modeling, leading to discovery of unknown and underutilized energy resources. Dr. Batir has performed geothermal research since 2010 including projects throughout the Continental United States, Alaska, Africa, and Iceland. He leads the Petrolern geothermal technical team in their thermal resource characterization and oilfield energy conversion efforts.
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