GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — With the click of a mouse, anyone from geologists to school kids can now explore geothermal energy potential in O0regon.
The free interactive online map posted recently by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries is part of a U.S. Department of Energy project to expand the knowledge of geothermal energy potential nationwide.
"Companies that want to come and explore in Oregon can access the data as well as you and I," said Clark Niewendorp, geothermal resource evaluator for the state geology department.
Geothermal energy taps hot rocks to boil water into steam to turn electric turbines. Unlike other sources of renewable energy with a low carbon footprint, such as solar or wind energy, it runs around the clock. There are 3.2 gigawatts of geothermal power connected to the U.S. grid, less than 1 percent of the grid's capacity. Government estimates put the potential for new discoveries of conventional geothermal power at about 30 gigawatts over the next 50 years.
"The low-hanging fruit has all been found in the United States," said Doug Hollett, program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy's Geothermal Technologies Office, which is developing the National Geothermal Data System.
The system covers 50 states, has information from more than 1 million wells, and is working toward including 3 million. The system ultimately will go far beyond temperature readings to include rock types and other measures that go into assessments, known in the oil and gas industry as play fairway analysis, of a local area's potential to produce commercial-grade geothermal power.
"That goes right to (a geothermal developer's) bottom line," Hollett said. "If they are drilling more successful wells, it becomes easier for them to obtain financing for geothermal projects."
The Oregon map is funded by an $800,000 Department of Energy stimulus grant, said Niewendorp. The state has done aerial infrared surveys in Lake and Malheur counties to look for small variations in surface temperatures. It is also drilling three test wells — two in Lake County and one in Malheur County. The data is all going into the national data system.
The Oregon map is covered with 690 little squares showing hot and warm springs, color-coded for temperature, and more than 1,000 little blue triangles showing wells where temperatures have been recorded. The points link to more information, including location and documents on characteristics of the site, such as water flow, depth, and ownership.
Nevada has a similar interactive map, and other states are working on them, but Oregon was the first state to tap the National Geothermal Data System for its map, said Kim Patten of the Arizona Geological Survey, which is overseeing the national project, funded by $22 million in stimulus money.
Maria Richards, coordinator of the Southern Methodist University Geothermal Lab, said maps like this would help inform the public about the potential for geothermal energy where they live.
Ian Warren is chief geologist for U.S. Geothermal, Inc., which put Oregon's first commercial geothermal power plant online last November in Malheur County.
He has used the data that went into the map for years but needed special software to access it. He says the interactive map makes it possible for anyone to use it, and to see it in the context of a map, rather than spreadsheets.
"Definitely, I'll be using it in the future," he said. "This is the first pass you have to go through to start thinking about where the next good place is to find geothermal resources."
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Online: Interactive geothermal map of Oregon, http://bit.ly/WjgFwi
Tracking map of data available state by state, http://bit.ly/YpiBBG
National Geothermal Data System, http://www.geothermaldata.org