The Bureau of Land Management granted approval today to a geothermal energy demonstration project in Central Oregon on the Newberry Volcano, 22 miles south of Bend.
The project will test how much water will flow through hot rocks 10,000 feet under the volcano with the goal of using that water to create steam for electricity generation. However, the demonstration phase does not include a power plant.
Geothermal energy is normally generated by pulling preexisting hot water and steam from the ground. But developers Davenport Newberry Holdings, LLC and AltaRock Energy, Inc. have proposed a way to generate the same clean energy from a dry hole in Central Oregon. They are unique in the U.S., though other companies are using the technique in Europe.
The Newberry project will use a process called “hydroshearing” that will create small earthquakes, most under a magnitude of 1, as pressurized water opens up natural fractures in the rock and and creates underground storage units. Here’s a video of how the process works. I did a post not too long ago about how this is different from hydraulic fracturing – the controversial process used in extracting natural gas from shale rock.
AltaRock President Susan Petty said the BLM approval will allow her company to spend the next two years creating the fractures and sending water through them to see how much potential for geothermal energy exists at the site and whether it would be worthwhile to build a power plant there. If the demonstration promises at least 10 megawatts of power, that would justify further action toward developing geothermal energy project, she said.
“If it were economic, then we would start permitting to build a power plant,” said Petty. “But only if it were economic. Only if it were successful. Success means we can acces enough of the hot rock down there with small fractures to be able to flow at economic rates and get enough water to production wells to be economic. That’s the part that we just don’t know at this point.”
The next step will be installing seismic meters in the area to monitor the hydroshearing activity – likely before fall of this year. Drilling to inject water underground would happen next year, she said.
A doctor in Bend had voiced concerns about potential drinking water contamination in towns near the project.
But Prineville District BLM District Manager, Carol Benkosky, determined that the project will not significantly impact the human or natural environment. The BLM and Department of Energy both issued a Finding of No Significant Impact, and the Forest Service will issue a special use permit authorizing installation of seismic monitoring equipment in the Deschutes National Forest, according to a news release sent out today.
While nearby La Pine could potentially experience the microseismic events caused by the project, the BLM says engineering evaluations found the seismicity had a very low risk of being felt by people and an even lower risk of doing any damage.