Alaska: survey explores geothermal potential at Akutan island

Alexander Richter 11 Sep 2009

A geophysical survey team is using electro-magnetic probes in Akutan to help investigate the potential of a nearby geothermal resource on this island in Alaska.

Reported locally, “A geophysical survey team is using electro-magnetic probes in Akutan to help investigate the potential of a nearby geothermal resource, according to the Aleutians East Borough.

If a significant resource is identified, this would potentially allow the Eastern Aleutian region to realize a clean, inexpensive and reliable source of energy production, news release from the borough said.
Currently, Akutan, population 713, and Trident Seafoods, a large seafood processing plant, use a combined peak of seven megawatts of diesel-generated power.

The city’s power cost exceeds 32 cents a kilowatt/hour, about three times what Anchorage residents pay.

Developing power from the Akutan geothermal project would eliminate the community’s dependence on diesel fuel, reduce carbon emissions and promote economic and cultural sustainability in the region.

Geothermal energy harnesses the natural power of steam from the earth to generate electricity and heat while producing almost no greenhouse emissions. This cost-effective power appears to be located right in Akutan’s backyard.

The geophysical survey, scheduled for completion by the end of September, uses electro-magnetic probes to detect subsurface electrical patterns to help locate the geothermal “reservoir.”

The technical team has established a base camp in Hot Springs Bay Valley on Akutan Island. Team members will conduct testing of as many as 50 locations.

Residents Matthew Bereskin and Brett Willis are part of the field crew. Trident Seafoods is providing logistical support between Dutch Harbor and Akutan.Mayor Joe Bereskin sees the geothermal project as a community effort.

“We are working closely with the Akutan Village Corp., the Akutan Traditional Tribal Council, the Aleut Corp., Trident Seafoods and our residents to develop a geothermal power and heating resource to replace our dependence on diesel fuel,” Bereskin said. “It’s an exciting, long-term project which will translate into jobs and economic activity for the community and the region.”

Exploratory activities began in May, with a soil chemistry survey of the Akutan geothermal area.

In June and July, a remote sensing study was conducted by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, using satellite images to detect thermal anomalies in the area.

The current geophysical survey, using electro-magnetic techniques, will aid in detecting subsurface resistivity/conductivity anomalies. Combined, these three surveys — all of which take place on the surface and require no drilling — will help locate the geothermal resource on Akutan.

Currently, the city is operating under an $800,000 loan from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which will carry the project through until the end of the year.

The city was recently awarded a grant from the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund. Those funds are expected to be available within the next three months.

The remainder of the $2.6 million in Alaska Energy Authority grant funding will go toward drilling geothermal wells.

As a necessary supplement to this funding, the City of Akutan recently applied for $4.5 million in Department of Energy stimulus grant funds for next year’s drilling program.

The city also plans to request additional State funding later this year. When producible wells are in place, the city will begin efforts to identify private investors and an experienced development partner.

Ray Mann, senior consultant with RMA Consulting Group and the city’s program manager, is optimistic additional funds will be available.

“This is a two-part process,” Mann said. “We need public funding for exploration and confirmation of the resource, and private capital for development and operations.”

Surface exploratory activities are scheduled to continue through the fall, with exploratory drilling scheduled for next summer.

The drilling phase of the project will employ a helicopter-portable coring drill rig to drill four ‘slim holes’ up to 1,500 feet deep in areas selected on the basis of this year’s resource evaluation.

Once wells are complete, the city plans to team up with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, industry experts and state/federal agencies for the well testing and long-term monitoring program.

“Preliminary results from this summer’s fieldwork are extremely interesting,” said Amanda Kolker, project manager. “We are rapidly developing a better understanding of the geothermal resource on Akutan. By the end of the year we should have a good conceptual model of the resource, which will help in targeting successful geothermal wells.”

Akutan is located on Akutan Island in the eastern Aleutians, off the southwest tip of the Alaska Peninsula, between the Bering Sea and the north Pacific Ocean. The city is 766 air miles southwest of Anchorage. Akutan is one of the busiest fishing ports in the country.”

Source: The Dutch Harbour Fisherman