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Tools We Use: LiDAR Data

July 8, 2013

LiDAR MapLight Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) is remotely-sensed data collected by small aircraft equipped with high-tech laser scanners. Laser pulses aimed at the surface are reflected back to a data collector in the plane, and used to create a Digital Elevation Model, or DEM. This data is particularly useful in densely vegetated areas (such as Newberry), because the vegetation can be removed from the final imagery to get a clear view of the true surface of an area. LiDAR data for Newberry Volcano was collected in 2010 by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

At Newberry, we’ve used LiDAR data to better understand the geologic structure and the eruptive history of the volcano. LiDAR data has been particularly useful in mapping the fault system, lava flows and cinder cones (buttes) at Newberry Volcano. Understanding the structural geology and volcanic history of an area is useful in determining the best locations for potential geothermal development.

This LiDAR-based image is a DEM of Lava Butte, part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and the site of some of the youngest lava flows produced by the volcano. Some of you might have driven up the road that spirals to the top of Lava Butte and seen the surrounding lava flows before. These flows are about 7,000 years old, and originate from the southern side of Lava Butte.LiDAR image for blog post

Here’s another LiDAR-based DEM image showing most of the Newberry Volcano edifice, including East and Paulina lakes. The orange line shows the area with LiDAR coverage. The surrounding background area is mapped from 10 m DEM data, which is less detailed. Pilot Butte, Lava Butte and Aubrey Butte are all easy to find. These buttes, or cinder cones, are unique geologic features at Newberry. While many volcanoes produce them, very few create as many as Newberry Volcano has. How many buttes can you count? Our last tally came to 451.

Recent Visits and Visitors

May 31, 2013

Spring is here, and with it come new visitors to the field site. On May 16th, AltaRock’s Trenton Cladouhos and Kyla Grasso visited Oregon State University in Corvallis to give an invited lecture in the Geology and Geophysics Seminar series at the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. The lecture was attended by about 100 people, including members of the public as well as OSU faculty and students. The following day we led a field trip to Newberry for about a dozen graduate students taking a course taught by professors John Dilles, Robert Harris and Deborah Pence entitled Geothermal Systems for Earth Scientists and Engineers. We explored the geology of Newberry Volcano and the inner workings of the Newberry EGS Demonstration field site.

Students hike the rim trail around Lava Butte for a view of some of the youngest lava flows from Newberry and a discussion about Newberry’s eruptive history.

Students hike the rim trail around Lava Butte for a view of some of the youngest lava flows from Newberry and a discussion about Newberry’s eruptive history.

The field trip began at the top of Lava Butte with a discussion about the local geologic setting and Newberry’s eruptive history. Subsequent stops included a visit to the stimulation site, watching water sampling take place, visiting one of our field seismometer locations, and a brief trip to a previously constructed drill pad which is now being reclaimed and replanted with trees by the US Forest Service. These stops were followed by a beautiful hike up the snowy Big Obsidian Flow. Some lively discussion about the mineral and biological properties of the hot springs at East Lake, led by economic geologist and OSU Professor Dr. John Dilles, concluded the day’s adventures.

Trenton Cladouhos explains the equipment setup at the stimulation site to OSU students and faculty.

Trenton Cladouhos explains the equipment setup at the stimulation site to OSU students and faculty.

AltaRock also recently visited the OSU Cascades Campus class on Conventional and Alternative Energy Systems. We were pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm, interest and depth of questions that students brought up during our presentation. We look forward to hosting these 21 soon-to-be engineers as well as a group of pre-Energy Systems Engineering students from OSU’s Corvallis campus for field trips next week.

View from the Big Obsidan Flow, which still has patches of deep snow in some place along the hiking trails.

View from the Big Obsidan Flow, which still has patches of deep snow in some place along the hiking trails.

AltaRock Featured in Inc. Magazine

May 14, 2013

We’re excited to share that AltaRock is featured in the May issue of Inc. Magazine with an article about the Newberry EGS Demonstration.

Inc. reporter Sam Wagreich spent quite a bit of time learning about our project and has written a strong, succinct description not only of how EGS works, but why it is poised to make such a difference:

“Geothermal energy holds great promise as a renewable source of round-the-clock electricity. But large-scale geothermal power production, which involves harnessing energy created by the heat of the earth’s interior, has proved difficult and expenseive. AltaRock Energy of Seattle has developed a process that could be a breakthrough.”

Read the full article here.

Staff Bio: Abi

April 8, 2013

AbiMeet Abigail, a Labrador Retriever/Boxer cross. Abi was adopted from a shelter in Maine at the age of five months after being found as a stray. After fattening up at her new home on the farm, she moved to Oregon four years ago and became an AltaRock field dog in June, 2012.

What does Abi do at work?

Abi’s main field tasks include keeping Kyla company and making sure no one finishes their lunch (or bananas!) unassisted. She enjoys rolling in the dirt, napping in the sun and playing tug-of-war with her canine sidekick, Yoda, although she thinks he barks just a little too much sometimes.

Now that field season has come to a close, Abi can often be found at our office in Bend, watching for the mailman and greeting visitors with a wag of her tail and a lick on the face if she can get away with it.

EGS Participant Bio: Kyla Grasso

March 27, 2013

Kyla GrassoKyla Grasso joined the AltaRock Energy team as a Geologist in June, 2012, and since then has been actively involved with field work at the Newberry EGS project site.

Background and Introduction to Geothermal Energy

Kyla holds a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Maine and a B.S. in Geology from Oregon State University. Her undergraduate thesis work involved characterizing the fault system at Newberry Volcano, and when AltaRock offered her a field position working on the Newberry EGS site, she was thrilled. “The opportunity to continue working on active research at Newberry was really exciting,” she said of accepting her current position with AltaRock.

Role in the demonstration

Kyla has been involved with most aspects of field work at the Newberry EGS Demonstration site. Her first task with AltaRock was to oversee the drilling of the MSA boreholes and help with installing the microseismic array equipment. During the stimulation, Kyla was involved with seismic monitoring and reporting, equipment maintenance and daily site activities.

Her continued involvement in groundwater monitoring at the project site means she’s spent the winter months snowshoeing and collecting water samples for analysis.  Kyla says she’s enjoyed the ups and downs of seeing things coming together at Newberry, and is looking forward to another field season in 2013.

Why she joined the geothermal industry

Kyla joined the geothermal industry because to her it represents one of the best possible solutions in the balancing act between human need and consumption, and the necessity of protecting the environment. “While we can’t erase our footprint on the Earth completely, the development of economically viable EGS could reduce the negative effects of our impact significantly. By reducing the number of fossil fuel fired power plants and replacing them with lower impact facilities, EGS could play an important role in how we think about energy use, efficiency and dependence. Seeing central Oregon become a forefront in the development of EGS technology is exciting.”

Outside of the demonstration

Kyla’s interests include road biking, hiking with her dog, wilderness rescue and trail running.

Technical Papers from the Newberry Demonstration

March 19, 2013

We at AltaRock believe that our work at the Newberry EGS Demonstration is very important, not just for ourselves but for the greater geothermal community and the future of global electricity and infrastructure.

We have been committed to collaboration and sharing our data and insights since the project’s inception–our geologists and engineers have spoken regularly at industry conferences, partnered with academic institutions, and published a number of papers.

An archive of those papers is available on our website: They are probably most useful to the technically inclined, but we hope the general public finds something of interest in them as well.

Personal Account: Stanford Geothermal Workshop

March 13, 2013

AltaRock Energy’s Matt Uddenberg accompanied a group of staff to this year’s Stanford Geothermal Conference, where AltaRock’s Susan Petty and Trenton Cladouhos gave a presentation on the Newberry EGS Demonstration. This was Matt’s first experience with the workshop, so we asked him to share his experience.

Why I Went

I was fortunate enough to have my first experience attending the Stanford Geothermal Workshop this year. My background is in geology; I also have some experience in finance and engineering. From my perspective I am interested in how operators or modelers characterize, simulate and optimize a geothermal field. Coming to Stanford I was looking to see what research was taking place that would allow operators to optimize their fields.

At the conference I saw many interesting solutions to an array of problems within the industry. I also saw that the new direction of geothermal research is most prominently Engineered Geothermal Systems (EGS). There were many talks on a variety of subjects but the most popular by far was coupled thermal-mechanical models trying to accurately predict fracture formation and propagation. Overall, the unofficial theme of this year’s conference seemed to be: how do we control the stimulation process so we can make high-functioning man-made reservoirs?

First Impressions

Stanford is a beautiful place. Having spent the winter in Bend, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, the sunlight that greeted me when I arrived in Palo Alto forced me to smile. Walking into the alumni center where the conference was held, I was pleased to see that it, too, was filled with sunlight.

Inside, it was immediately clear that this conference drew participants from around the world. There were researchers from Turkey, China, France, Germany, the Philippines, and more.  As the event coordinator, Roland Horne, gave the welcome speech, looks of recognition darted around the room from one participant to another. Despite the audience’s global footprint, many of these people had met before. Geothermal is still a small industry, one where operators and researchers from around the world are colleagues, even across continents.

Despite the close connections of the industry, Roland Horne gave a historical perspective on how much smaller the conference had been when it first began. On an international scale, geothermal projects have certainly grown drastically in the past 30 years, though the United States has not kept pace with nations like Germany and Australia when it comes to developing environmentally and economically promising technologies such as EGS.

Day 1: Reservoirs and Cost Reduction

Walking around the conference and poking my head into different sections I saw that most of the research was focused on the overall concept of improving the efficiency of reservoir creation – thus lowering the cost of EGS as a form of energy production.

The first talk I saw was on rock mechanics. The presenters were exploring how small scale stress fields are affected by a propagating fracture going through a material with a set of defined criteria and modeled as a discreet element model.

Such research aims to help developers design a stimulation procedure with a predictable output, eg. a fracture with a certain aperture and orientation. Doing this would enable one to design a fracture system that best meet the needs of a given resource.

By the end of the day I had attended 12 talks on 12 different ways to model fracture propagation. Many overlapped or were closely related, asking similar questions and trying related methods to answer those questions. This is proof of why these conferences are so valuable: they’re an opportunity for researchers to both share and to receive, to be informed by the learning of others, and to grow from the community’s collective work.

Day 2: EGS Field Results

The next day I went to talks primarily focused on field results in conventional and EGS fields. The common presentation style of these talks was a slide or slides depicting a three dimensional space filled with different sized and colored dots.

These slides depicted visualizations of seismic data. During the stimulation process small micro-earthquakes (MEQs) are generated when natural fractures undergo shear failure, when fractures spontaneously close, or for a variety of other kinetic reasons. Using a micro-seismic array developers are able to monitor these events and determine at where they occur and how large an event they are.

In this area, I’d like to see more research connecting what developers are able to observe and what modelers were able to model.  In a heterogeneous reservoir how could one ascertain rock properties away from the wellbore if all one can observe are micro-seismic events? What was the value of these intricate complex models if the inputs could not be known?

Day 3: Cost Modeling and Geochemistry

The third day I went to talks focused on cost modeling and geochemistry. These talks were the highlight for me.

Especially high on the list was Cornell University’s presentation on its new cost modeling software ‘Geophires’. They use simple but adequate models to model the evolution of a field dominated by porous media, fractures or both. They use these models to come up with an optimal plant size and technology and then use all of this information to determine a levelized cost of energy. Cornell’s solution to cost modeling is clear, accurate and elegant.

I also really enjoyed a series of talks that day about characterizing a geothermal hot spring by geological means and modeling known parameters to inform a better understanding of the system.

Final Thoughts and What Comes Next

Seeing these talks felt refreshing, and I especially appreciated how these groups used different forms of analysis and modeling data to create a defined characterization of a system. These characterizations were improved by using the output of one form of analysis to inform the structure of a model characterizing the system. This model would in turn show possible discrepancies in the data or analysis and then the analysis could be tweaked to better represent the system. Iterating this process would give one a clear understanding of a system as a whole.

What I would like to see next, building on what I experienced at the Stanford Geothermal Workshop:

  1. Tools that iterate between models, data and analysis to characterize a system. Currently, micro-seismic data is not being used by models to characterize the systems that are being developed.
  2. A way to validate the models currently being produced.
  3. Development of models that will inform the characterization of reservoirs.

As I left the Stanford alumni center on the last day, it was still sunny and there was a slight breeze. It had been a treat to see the work underway by researchers around the world. It was also both humbling and energizing to realize how much work still needs to be done, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

EGS Participant Bio: Matt Uddenberg

March 13, 2013

Read Matt’s account of the 2013 Stanford Geothermal Workshop here.

Matt Uddenberg joined AltaRock as an intern in 2012. His job primarily entails computer programming for live visualization software development and other applications, although he’s also been known to work on seismic monitoring equipment installation and various other tasks to keep things moving forward at the project site.

Background and Introduction to Geothermal Energy

Matt was introduced to the industry while working with a geothermal well drilling operation at the Coso Geothermal Field near Owens Lake, California. “The first time I saw a well being flow tested I was amazed and captivated. It seemed incredible that one could tap into such an incredible and sustained power.” After completing his graduate work at the University of Texas, Matt was recruited to the AltaRock team for his skills and experience in the industry.

Enjoying the Newberry Demonstration Project

“I really enjoyed developing my programming skills and creating the Human Machine Interface and data visualization software. I also thoroughly enjoyed ratcheting more bolts than I can remember into their respective places.”

What’s on his resume?

Matt holds a B.S. in Earth Science from the University of California at Santa Cruz and an M.A. in Earth and Energy Resources from the University of Texas, Austin. He’s also worked as a mud logger for geothermal well drilling, served as an Environmental Geophysics Technician and been a Research Assistant for the Bureau of Economic Geology in Austin, Texas.

In his free time

Matt enjoys writing, traveling, hiking, playing the occasional soccer game and seeing live music when he can.

AltaRock Presents Stimulation Results to the Stanford Geothermal Workshop

February 25, 2013

Two months after the stimulation and the well being shut in for the winter, we are pleased to have had the opportunity to present our results to the geothermal community at the 38th Stanford Geothermal Workshop. During the Wednesday morning session of talks on EGS, Susan Petty and Trenton Cladouhos of AltaRock presented our stimulation results to a crowd eager to hear of our progress.

Presentation by Susan Petty

Susan’s presentation focused on  our efforts to gather information and data to develop our comprehensive operation plan before engaging in the permitting process and various public outreach campaigns (including this blog!).

She also addressed the timescale of field work at the project site, confirming that the highly anticipated Newberry EGS Demonstration has finally become  reality. Susan also  addressed the effectiveness of the diverers usedduring stimulation,  showing marked improvements in well permeability and evidence of stimulation/diversion locations from continuous temperature monitoring within the well.

Overall, the stimulation results  presented by Susan were well received at Stanford, and the geothermal community posed many questions  about our diversion practices and the implications it has on performing future EGS stimulations in a cost-effective way.


Presentation by Trenton Cladouhos

Trenton presented further evidence of our success at Newberry, discussing the details of our seismic monitoring during the stimulation. Trenton laid out how monitoring can enhance geosciences and engineering techniques, and he described other procedures essential to the expansion of EGS.

Trenton showed that our improvements to the local seismic network made it possible to detect micro-events. This allowed us to monitor the progress of the stimulation, detecting micro-events previously invisible to existing seismic detection equipment. The locations of over 100 events detected by the network showed that over the course of the stimulation, the diverter caused a shift in the location of the local micro-seismicity. This was further indication of our diversion’s effectiveness.

Finally, Trenton shared some of the lessons we learned regarding EGS seismic monitoring, including how crucial the borehole monitoring stations we installed were to the stimulation. The crowd at Stanford was pleased and amused to learn that even our largest events were barely noticeable on surface stations, which seemed to be more effective at detecting cars and trains than seismicity from EGS.

Groundwater Monitoring: What’s Winter Field Work Like?

February 12, 2013

-Kyla Grasso, Geologist, AltaRock Energy, Inc.

Chilly day at the office! Filtering water sampled from East Lake hot springs before bottling and shipping it out for analysis.

Although the stimulation phase of the Newberry EGS Demonstration has come to a close, field work continues throughout the winter months on the volcano (brrr!). We’re currently collecting and analyzing groundwater samples in order to monitor any changes in the local groundwater system. This work is intended to make sure thestimulation hasn’t affected the quality of the groundwater high on the flanks of the volcano. Water samples are collected by AltaRock’s staff monthly and sent to independent laboratories where they’re analyzed for 30 different elements. Characterization of the local groundwater chemistry means we’re able to show that EGS can be developed safely and without negative impact on the surrounding aquifers and hydrologic features.

We will continue to collect and analyzing water samples from several sites surrounding the stimulation well for six months following the stimulation. Sample sites are located both up-gradient and down-gradient from the stimulation well.  In the winter we sample the hot springs at East Lake and Paulina Lake in Newberry Caldera, two wells located on the volcano, and a residential well in the valley.  Once spring weather comes around (we’ll hedge our bets on mid-July, since last year it snowed June 26th!), we’ll be able to access several other wells which are shut in for winter to protect them from freezing. So what does groundwater quality sampling look like in the field? Check out these photos!

Collecting a water sample from the hot springs at Paulina Lake requires a 4-5 mile snowshoe trek over steep slopes and icy ridges.

Collecting a water sample from the hot springs at Paulina Lake requires a 4-5 mile snowshoe trek over steep slopes and icy ridges.

Transportation is a must! With 4-5 feet of snow in some areas, a tracked vehicle with enough storage for our field sampling gear is a must. Here we’re getting set up to sample water from the hot springs at East Lake.

Transportation is a must! With 4-5 feet of snow in some areas, a tracked vehicle with enough storage for our field sampling gear is a must. Here we’re getting set up to sample water from the hot springs at East Lake.

Field work in the winter months is always tricky. Newberry Volcano often hosts 5-6 feet of snow, making a tracked vehicle and snowshoes must-haves for winter field

Digging out! Three feet of snow buried this seismic monitoring station in January. We uncovered it just to check on things, and all was well. Equipment at our field site is designed to function over a wide range of temperatures, and so far it’s held up very well this winter.

Digging out! Three feet of snow buried this seismic monitoring station in January. We uncovered it just to check on things, and all was well. Equipment at our field site is designed to function over a wide range of temperatures, and so far it’s held up very well this winter.

work. Collecting just two samples can take an entire 10-12 hour field day if all goes well. We’ve all heard the phrase, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and when it comes to working in an environment where temperatures can range from -15 °F 100 °F, that couldn’t be more true. While we’re out sampling groundwater, we often make time to check on seismic equipment, perform any needed maintenance and make a stop at the stimulation well to check on things.

Water filtration system used to prepare samples before we send them out to the laboratories for analysis.

Water filtration system used to prepare samples before we send them out to the laboratories for analysis.

Each sample collected is first analyzed in the field. We record pH, water temperature, electrical conductivity and a number of other measurements as soon as we take the sample. Once these are recorded, the water is filtered, bottled and sealed to prevent contamination before being sent for analysis. Three laboratories perform more than 30 different tests on each sample. Our staff compiles the data, compares it with previous results, and looks for any significant changes.

So far we’ve collected and analyzed 21 samples from nine different sites surrounding the stimulation well, and we’ll head out again next week to collect another set. Our sampling program can detect changes as small as 0.2 parts per million for some elements. As expected,

to date no significant changes to water quality have been found at any of the sampling sites.