From KUNC (Rae Solomon):
…emerging advances in renewable technologies could help extend the operating life of aging oil wells and help address Colorado’s orphan well problem.
Selena Derichsweiler is chief executive officer of Transitional Energy, a local renewable energy startup. She and her business partner, Ben Burke, both worked for years in the oil and gas industry. Now, they are more interested in another thing the wells are bringing to the surface: geothermal energy…
“The temperature is the most valuable to me — wherever it’s hottest and has the most flow rate,” Derichsweiler said. “That temperature, that’s the thermal resort.”
Reconsidering a waste stream
According to Maria Richards, geothermal lab coordinator at Southern Methodist University, every oil and gas well doubles by default as a geothermal well.
“They are already mining the geothermal heat with every single one of their wells,” Richards said. “With every barrel of oil or cubic foot of gas that they bring up, they are mining the geothermal resources.”
But the oil and gas industry has never treated that heat as an asset to be tapped. If anything, Richards says they see the heat — in the form of hot water — as a nuisance that has an operating cost attached to it.
“They have to pay to get rid of that water,” Richards explained.
In part, that’s because oil and gas reservoirs are a lot cooler — 150 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit — than traditional geothermal sources, which are typically closer to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, so the geothermal potential hasn’t been obvious.
But recent advances in heat exchange technology now make it possible to generate geothermal energy at much milder temperatures — like those in the oil fields of northeast Colorado. The energy industry is only now catching up.
“It’s a mixture of needing the technology to grow and the oil and gas industry had to realize that they have a resource,” Richards said.
According to a recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, geothermal is an under-utilized energy source. The amount of energy produced from it in the U.S. lags far behind other sources.