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SMU touts potential for geothermal power generation from oil wells

Oil Well in Reagan County, Texas (source: flickr/ J. Stephen Conn, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 31 Oct 2013

Oil and gas wells coproduce a lot of hot water, which is wasted pretty much everywhere around the globe. This hot water could though be used to generate power in geothermal power plants, as highlighted by the fine researchers at the SMU Geothermal Laboratory in Texas.

Every second year the Geothermal Laboratory at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas holds an event that looks at the developments surrounding the utilization of hot water co-produced from oil and gas wells. This event is regularly attended by the major oil firms, both national and international. The event is called: “Geothermal Energy and Waste Heat to Power: Utilizing Oil and Gas plays.

It is a known fact that the largest byproduct from oil production is hot water, which has so far been disregarded and actually had to be dealt with as a problem. But this hot water could provide a new revenue option for those wells.

The hot water, in many cases – so Maria Richard, a researcher at SMU – above the boiling point, could actually produce power for utility companies and mean additional revenue streams for the operators of the wells drilled.

In a recent article, she is quoted saying that “Texas has the potential to be one of the largest geothermal producers in the nation, but its focus tends to be on gas and oil.”

Despite the many opportunities in Texas, most of the interest has come on a small scale from states like Wyoming, North Dakota and California. The opportunities in Texas are so far mostly untouched and one needs to find a better way to reach decision makers at oil companies in the region.

As discussed here many times, the business model of geothermal and the oil and gas business is not quite the same. Oil and gas is a commodity business, while geothermal is more a utility business with returns only achieved over a longer period of time. Nevertheless, Richards believes that utilizing hot water from oil wells is an option and despite needing a longer time to be profitable could provide a valid business options for oil firms that need to think increasingly more long term.

In Texas the South might be more interesting due to higher temperatures.

To learn more about the fine research done by SMU on this topic, check out the Geothermal Laboratory’s website.

Source: San Antionio Business Journal