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article imageGeothermal technology takes a giant leap forward in Washington

By Karen Graham     Jun 7, 2017 in Technology
Spokane - While Washington state uses a mix of renewables, including hydroelectric and wind, it has lagged behind neighboring states like Idaho, or Utah and Nevada in the development of geothermal energy. But geothermal exploration is now moving forward.
Washington, like all the states on the west coast of the country, is part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and is very active geologically. The development of geothermal energy has lagged in the state primarily because of the complex geology that actually hinders reaching the hottest spots.
According to the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Washington's largest geothermal areas are covered by large, thick stands of forests that also gets significant rainfall amounts, masking the hot spots. Then there is the added complication of the hot spots being located on rugged slopes at high elevations.
Washington state DNR
To find the ideal geothermal spots, scientists have to use data from earthquakes, LiDAR, geologic mapping, water chemistry, and geophysics. And up through the 1980s, a number of projects that studied regional heat flow in the state were undertaken. Hundreds of wells were drilled and data was collected on the temperature and quality of thermal and mineral springs.
Since that time, the DNR has participated in a nationwide project with funding from the federal Department of Energy to compile geothermal data for cataloging in the National Geothermal Data System (NGDS). Not only has the project given the state an updated summary of geothermal areas, but the data has sparked a renewed interest in the extraction of rare Earth minerals as a domestic source, easing our reliance on China and other countries for these precious metals.
Streamlining the permitting for geothermal exploration
Last month, Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5470, which the state legislature unanimously passed to streamline Department of Natural Resources (DNR) permitting for drilling core holes used to gather geothermal data. Before the legislation was passed, each core hole required a separate permit.
Besides the separate permit, if the drilling went more than 750 feet into the bedrock, or if geothermal energy was discovered, it required a hearing. All this made drilling a tedious and time-consuming activity. Under the new legislation, one permit will cover numerous core holes and no hearing will be required, regardless of the depth or if geothermal energy is discovered.
The DNR has defined three locations in the Cascade Range to focus exploration of geothermal energy resources on. They include (1) Mount St. Helens seismic zone, (2) the southeast flank of Mount Baker, and (3) the Wind River Valley. This is because the DNR has more detailed data for these areas and they have fewer land-use restrictions.
Geothermal resource potential map of the Washington Cascade Range  showing the three areas selected ...
Geothermal resource potential map of the Washington Cascade Range, showing the three areas selected for targeted research and several heat input variables.
Washington DNR
Chris Brown, a research team leader at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington says there is the potential for expanded geothermal options in the areas. He points out that as a nation, the more we work to reduce carbon emissions through the use of renewables resources, the better. And geothermal energy is a never-ending clean source of energy.
More about Washington state, geothermal technology, ebergy portfolio, Renewables, ring of fire
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