Not enough people. The drilling for oil has sucked up every qualified drilling person worldwide. Most of the best and easy or shallow locations are working or spoken for leaving the great mass of the available locations deeper than the short depth guys and their equipment can go. As an example, Exxon Mobil has completed their latest directional drilling project off shore of Siberia into the Sea of Okhotsk.

Exxon Mobil at Chayvo Project

The new Exxon Mobil well is only 8350 feet deep below the sea bottom, but 38,322 feet out from the wellhead at the surface, some 7 miles out to sea. It’s sort of a well plus pipeline. Keep in mind that Chevron has drilled straight down 34,189 so the ability to get to the oil and hot rocks is out there. One has to wonder how far the horizontal sections could get. It’s fair to say, plenty far enough. The horizontal drilling is going to yield a lot more oil and gas as well as pave the technological way for geothermal drilling.

Before we assume that the technology is directly available we need to be aware that what is getting drilled is quite different when prospecting for oil and geothermal heat. The oil guys have it pretty well down with the best explorers getting results from nearly half of their attempts (Chevron). However, the best tools to determine where to drill for heat are not worked out yet. It will be a wildcat, risky kind of thing for a while. The seismic geology that the petroleum business uses so adroitly isn’t being applied to heat and may not in fact be convertible in recognizable sense. This leads to the second issue about the people: the innovation, creativity and education hasn’t gotten started yet to find, train and educate the people who can cut the risks from trying for a geothermal play.

That leads to the next matter, assuming that you have an expert at locating a geothermal deposit, have it mapped and can drill for it. The drillers are going to want to know what rocks they will be drilling. Chances are the bits for going to a geothermal source isn’t going to use the technology as drilling through the softer sedimentary rocks. You’re going to need something much harder and stronger. The materials exist but the designs are not mature yet if even designed.

Suppose you did get your hole down there and found your hot spot begging to be flooded and exploited. But the fluid you send down never comes back. The endless fissures just drain away everything you send down. Talk about dry hole, indeed.

It looks like a grim picture doesn’t it? The people aren’t going to come without a credible commitment for long term geothermal development. Such a commitment would be worthwhile if:

  • The costs for the hole can be predetermined with considerable accuracy.
  • System costs for one of the heat to electrical potential generators such as steam turbine, heat pump systems or others can be known.
  • The connection costs for hooking to the grid,
  • And the rate at which the grid operator would pay for what should be low cost continuous power.

But the big risk is going to be down hole. Knowing the aforementioned matters will serve to describe the remaining available capital to drill, or how many tries you’re allowed before going broke. That makes the people know-how matter very important. If a payout were to allow say four tries before folding up and a good person could make sure you’re a “go” with the first one, the deal looks very different and the risk is too.

Engineering might well play a big role to determine what a good hole is compared to a loser. The directional drilling expertise offers the potential to get more locations productive for geothermal than would otherwise be possible. A pair of parallel bores allowing one fluid down and one fluid back might well change the risk picture dramatically. There is the example of the oil guys drilling out seven miles.

Seven miles out would certainly expose a circulation system to a lot of hot rock. One doesn’t need two holes but could just circulate in the single bore as the length in hard rocks could be quite long indeed.

It will take people. But while this post’s opening thrust is in the technological area those people can’t come in until another group of people gets in first. Those are the visionaries, leaders and risk takers. That’s the first thing, the kind of people we need. The payoff could be a reserve that never depletes. Yup. Never. Think on that the next time you consider those “Proven Reserves” that make up the stock price you’re considering. Hmm.


1 Comment so far

  1. Ray Brindger on January 13, 2011 7:54 PM

    Very efficiently written post. It will be supportive to anyone who uses it, as well as myself. Keep doing what you are doing – i will definitely read more posts.

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