Geothermal energy

DOE Program Seeks To Reuse Abandoned Oil Wells for Geothermal Production

Grants have been offered to four separate pilot-style projects in order to test the geothermal potential of old oil and gas wells.

Unrecognizable mature man holding US Dollar bills
The US Department of Energy is handing out over $8 million for geothermal studies of old oil and gas wells.
Source: CiydemImages/Getty Images

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected four new projects to receive up to $8.4 million to establish new geothermal energy and heat production from abandoned oil and gas wells. With this funding, the DOE is partnering with existing well owners and operators to use their idle or unproductive wells to access otherwise untapped geothermal potential. Transforming oil wells into geothermal wells could expand US geothermal energy capabilities, supporting the Biden/Harris Administration’s goal of a carbon-free grid by 2035.

“With this initiative approach, we can transform existing fossil fuel wells into productive sources of sustainable, clean geothermal energy,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman. “These efforts will demonstrate how to leverage our existing oil and gas workforce and infrastructure, bringing more geothermal energy online and transitioning our energy workforce into the growing clean energy economy.”

Geothermix sponsored one of the projects selected and will harvest waste heat from existing oil and gas wells in Texas to generate commercial quantities of geothermal electricity.

ICE Thermal Harvesting will produce electricity from 11 existing oil and gas wells in California’s San Joaquin Valley using an innovative power generation technology.

Transitional Energy will install new geothermal heat engines at the Blackburn oil field in Nevada for electrical power production. As a result of the project, Transitional Energy will generate geothermal energy at the site and construct new rural electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Lastly, the University of Oklahoma will produce heat from an Oklahoma oil field for use in Tuttle Elementary and Middle Schools in Tuttle, Oklahoma. With access to four hydrocarbon wells within a mile, the schools will benefit from the recycling of oil and gas infrastructure at considerable savings for the schools.

If properly abandoned, old oil and gas wells pose little threat to the environment. Wells that are left without proper abandonment procedures, however, have beena long-standing issue for the US oil patch. These orphaned wells can leak methane into the atmosphere, contributing to overall greenhouse-gas emissions.

The $8.4 million in grants is part of DOE’s Wells of Opportunity initiative, funded by the Geothermal Technologies Office. Launched in 2020, the project focuses on bringing geothermal online using existing infrastructure to lower costs and reduce development timelines. Last year, three projects were funded to help support research and development and reduce the costs and risks associated with geothermal development.