One of the skills I’ve gained as a graduate student studying geophysics at Oregon State University (OSU) is the ability to visualize miles of solid rock and model the internal structure of volcanoes. This is not easy to do when (aside from a limited number of deep wells) we’re only able to access the earth’s surface. To create an image of the subsurface, we take a variety of surface measurements at hundreds of locations and create a model of the subsurface that reproduces the signals we measured. We assess the performance of the model by comparing synthetic data calculated from the model with observed data. We can use data collected from deep boreholes to directly assess model predictions.
At the Newberry Volcano, we are very fortunate to have an enormous amount of data to constrain our models. There are over 40 years of extensive geophysical and geological surveys, information from four deep wells and numerous boreholes around the Newberry Geothermal Energy (NEWGEN) area. This extensive set of data allows us to create an accurate representation of the subsurface.
Some of the geophysical data used at Newberry come from small variations in the strength of the Earth’s gravity caused by variations in the density of rocks, differences in how fast seismic waves move through different types of rock, how much the ground surface is moved when fluids are injected deep underground, characteristics of tiny earthquakes that have been detected in the area, and how electric current flows through different materials underground. My focus is on the electrical properties of Newberry, where we use a geophysical method called magnetotellurics (MT).
Researchers at OSU have developed data processing tools that are used by scientists around the world to create models of the earth’s electrical resistivity, not only at geothermal sites, but also in tectonic studies of continent-scale geologic structures. I use these tools to determine what parts of Newberry are more electrically resistive and more conductive, which tells us about the composition of the subsurface. It is especially sensitive to the presence of fluids that fill permeable areas of the rocks, as well as to the presence of clays and various minerals that may indicate the presence (past or present) of fluids circulating underground. Sensitivity to this kind of target is really important to our goal of locating where the rocks at Newberry are hot and dry.
Comparing models developed using MT data with models derived using complementary measurement techniques (gravity and seismic) allows us to assess the validity of our predictions. General agreement in model predictions between the various techniques increases our confidence in our representation of the site; this high degree of inter-model harmony gives us confidence that jointly interpreting the different types of geophysics results in an accurate model of subsurface rocks and geologic structures, and provides a 3D view of the NEWGEN site without ever leaving the ground surface.
About the Author
Esteban Bowles-Martinez is a Ph.D. student working with Dr. Adam Schultz in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. His doctoral research involves developing three- and four-dimensional (3-D plus snapshots in time) methods of imaging volcanoes and related geodynamic processes using electromagnetic and other geophysical methods.
I want to give a big thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth at the Bend Summer Festival recently! We really enjoyed meeting so many people who are engaged in the community and who are actively supporting the NEWGEN Geothermal Energy project.
It’s been great seeing support for geothermal energy research and development grow over the years in Central Oregon. I’ve been helping staff our festival booth every summer since 2012, and it never fails to impress me how interested and engaged our local community is. As a Bend local, I really appreciate each and every one of you who have reached out to ask us questions, get an update on the project, and voice your support.
We’d like to thank the local, state, and national representatives who have already endorsed the project. Their continued support is essential to the success of NEWGEN Geothermal Energy. Check out our website to see a current list of representatives who have already endorsed the project.
About the Author
Kyla Grasso is a Geologist with AltaRock Energy and serves on the Technical and Communications and Outreach teams for NEWGEN.
The NEWGEN team is happy to announce that we will be participating in the Bend Summer Festival July 9th and 10th in downtown Bend. Stop by our booth in the Conscious Living Showcase area to learn more about the project, have your questions answered, and meet some of the NEWGEN team members. We’ll be handing out free green energy swag and might have a few sweet treats on hand as well, so stop by and say hello!
Creating a well-connected network of fractures in hot, impermeable rocks is central to the performance of enhanced geothermal systems. The amount of heat that can be extracted is directly influenced by several properties, such as reservoir permeability and fracture surface area. Our ability to not only enhance, but also measure those fracture attributes is crucial to a better understanding of geothermal energy production in hot dry rocks.
The Department of Energy Subsurface Technology and Engineering R&D (SubTER) crosscut is currently funding research to explore novel reservoir stimulation approaches combined with methods for real-time imaging of fracture networks. Last month I traveled to Socorro, New Mexico and participated in a targeted field demonstration of this new technology with a team of researchers led by Sandia National Laboratory that included support from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
A series of stimulation tests were performed using a novel explosive developed by Sandia that is designed to maximize permeability and at the same time minimize unwanted damage to the borehole. In addition, a suite of geophysical (electrical resistivity tomography, cross-borehole seismic, distributed acoustic, and ground penetrating radar) imaging technologies were deployed along with hydraulic tests and injection of signal enhancing contrast agents to characterize the newly developed fracture network. Novel real-time imaging capabilities developed by PNNL were also demonstrated during the integrated test. This technology will help provide critical information for operational control of the fracture generation process in the future, and could be a technology demonstrated at DOE’s Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) site.
About the Author
Dr. Chris Strickland is a geophysicist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, WA.
One of the founding members of the NEWGEN FORGE Consortium is Oregon State University (OSU), Oregon’s leading public research university and one of only two Land Grant, Sea Grant, and Space Grant institutions in the United States. Oregon State University is ranked among the nation’s best in forestry, geosciences, nuclear engineering, conservation biology, marine sciences, and agriculture. The emphasis at OSU on natural resources and its intersection with engineering and engineered natural systems lies at the heart of OSU’s mission. Our rapidly growing student population at the main campus in Corvallis and the growing Cascade Campus in Bend (which is situated near the AltaRock Bend offices and only 28 miles from the Newberry FORGE site) makes OSU uniquely qualified to serve as the academic research, education, and outreach hub for the NEWGEN FORGE site.
Oregon State University Expertise:
- Subsurface geophysical imaging using electromagnetic, electrical, and seismic methods
- Measuring changes in gravitational acceleration caused by subsurface density changes
- Observing ground deformation from fixed reference points on the ground and from space-based radar systems
- Extensive geologic mapping and sample characterization
Working with our NEWGEN colleagues, OSU will oversee geoscience operations to assure that the goals of the Department of Energy’s FORGE Program are fully realized. OSU has also proposed to operate the FORGE physical sample repository, making geologic materials (rock cores, cuttings, fluid samples) available to researchers in perpetuity. This will be a valuable national resource for projects linked to the DOE Geothermal Technologies Office while also serving as a vital national resource for the future.
OSU also directs the NEWGEN FORGE Communications and Outreach efforts. Working closely with the local community, policy makers, elected officials, the geothermal industry, and the public at large, the NEWGEN FORGE communications effort transcends mere information sharing. New curricular materials will be developed to energize the next generation of students to consider careers in geothermal technology. By leveraging OSU’s traditional strengths in developing effective outreach and engagement to groups traditionally unrepresented in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, OSU has crafted the BADGES (Building a Diverse Geothermal Energy Sector) Program, to carefully nurture students from underrepresented groups at OSU and the other academic institutions in the NEWGEN Consortium, so they can be best positioned for successful career tracks in geothermal technology and related areas. Student opportunities will include placement in internships with NEWGEN partners companies and laboratories.
OSU is looking forward to lighting up the future with clean, abundant Enhanced Geothermal Systems energy, and plans to work closely with its partners in the exciting NEWGEN FORGE Consortium!
About the Author
Dr. Adam Schultz is a Professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. He is the Director for Geosciences for the NEWGEN project, one of the Department of Energy’s FORGE sites.
Founded in 2007 and headquartered in Seattle, AltaRock Energy is a full-service geothermal energy technology and services company. Our team includes industry experts that specialize in geology, geochemistry, hydrology, engineering, operations, management, and finance. We’ve been working on geothermal research at Newberry since 2010, and are excited to be a part of the NEWGEN FORGE Consortium!
Newberry EGS Demonstration
AltaRock managed the Newberry EGS Demonstration from 2010-2015, successfully performing a stimulation at a geothermal well drilled in 2008. Project accomplishments included a gold-standard monitoring plan for induced seismicity at geothermal sites, an excellent record of environmental monitoring and protection, and successful community engagement to build support for geothermal energy research and development in Central Oregon.
A number of technical scientific papers were published over the course of the Newberry EGS Demonstration, and can be found here.
Geothermal Projects in the U.S. and Abroad
AltaRock has worked on geothermal projects in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Utah, and other states. These projects include greenfield assessment for geothermal resources, well stimulations, wellfield and reservoir management, power plant optimization, and full project management. AltaRock owns and operates the Faulkner I geothermal power plant at Blue Mountain, NV.
Our international experience includes a well stimulation in the volcanic province of Mexico, and design of an EGS project in southern Hungary.
What We Bring to NEWGEN FORGE
The AltaRock team will leverage the experience gained during the Newberry EGS demonstration and other well stimulations worldwide to contribute to a FORGE research and development plan designed to improve the economics of both EGS and conventional geothermal projects. With one foot in geothermal research and another in the geothermal industry, AltaRock understands the challenge that disruptive technology has crossing the chasm to widespread adoption and impact. Along with other industrial NEWGEN partners, we will be able to help technology developed at NEWGEN FORGE reach its potential as the future of geothermal energy. We will continue to promote research and development breakthroughs by regularly publishing in scientific journals and giving presentations at scientific conferences. Locally, we promote community support for geothermal energy through outreach activities at schools, festivals, and community meetings.
The NEWGEN team is busy, busy, busy preparing the proposal for the latest round of FORGE. But that doesn’t mean that’s all we’re doing!
Last month I attended the Oregon Geothermal Working Group held in Lakeview, Oregon on April 8th. Project managers gave updates on various geothermal projects taking place in Oregon, including my presentation on the NEWGEN FORGE site. Meeting attendees were excited to hear an update on the project work, and continue to be supportive of the NEWGEN FORGE efforts.
The Oregon Geothermal Working Group includes representatives of utilities, government agencies, environmental groups, farming and rural interests, and geothermal industry developers. The Group was formed in 2004 to promote the use of Oregon’s geothermal resources for power generation and direct use, and meetings are open to the public.
I look forward to presenting at future Oregon Geothermal Working Group meetings! If you’re curious about what I presented, take a look at this copy of the NEWGEN FORGE presentation slides .
Kyla Grasso is a Geologist with AltaRock Energy and serves on the Technical and Communications and Outreach teams for the NEWGEN FORGE project.