Partnership with fracking company could reduce costs for geothermal

By Maura Forrest

April 09, 2015

A U.K.-based company is moving ahead with plans to use old hydraulic fracturing wells from the oil and gas industry to generate renewable geothermal heat. It’s a strategy that companies across the world, including in Canada, are considering as a way of cutting the up-front costs of geothermal production.

Geothermal Engineering has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with fracking company Cuadrilla to assess the feasibility of using oil and gas wells to access geothermal energy. The company estimates that using existing wells could cut the cost of geothermal production by 80 per cent.

“The possibility of using existing wells enables us to not only deliver renewable geothermal heat at a much lower cost but also to recycle wells that would otherwise be wasted,” said Ryan Law, the company’s managing director, in a press release.

The project is supported by a US$82,200 grant from the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change. The heat from these wells would supply local communities.

Geothermal Engineering is not the first company to think of using knowledge and infrastructure from the oil and gas industry for geothermal production. A similar pilot project is underway in China’s Huabei oil field.

And in Canada, the Deep Earth Energy Production Corp. is using data from southern Saskatchewan oilfields to locate geothermal reservoirs. The company aims to complete its first pilot project in 2017, which would produce around five megawatts of electricity.

British Columbia would seem to be another good candidate for this type of partnership. There are significant geothermal resources in the natural gas fields of northeastern B.C., which could be used to supply local communities with renewable heat or power.

But Craig Dunn, chief geologist with Calgary-based Borealis GeoPower, told DeSmog Canada last year that B.C.’s fossil-fuel industry isn’t open to geothermal exploration.

“I can’t get a geothermal lease in an oil and gas development in B.C.,” he said. 

In the wake of Geothermal Engineering’s announcement, some have also raised ethical concerns about collaboration between the fracking and geothermal industries.

For instance, CleanTechnica’s James Ayre questioned whether it’s wise for the geothermal industry to improve the image of “a practice as destructive and polluting” as fracking.

But in the press release, U.K. Secretary of State for Energy Ed Davey said “If we can develop these technologies so that exhausted shale gas wells can then be used for renewable geothermal heat, we can not only use gas to replace coal, but use shale gas as a bridge to true low carbon heat.”

Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff