Can Abandoned Oil Wells Be Used To Generate Geothermal Energy?


“The decade of geothermal energy” is a phrase that is becoming more and more common in media and energy industry gatherings as the international zero emissions campaign comes to include one of the most common ways. fascinating and cleanest way to extract energy from the earth: geothermal energy.

To achieve the heat that the Earth’s mantle radiates into the core, geothermal companies have to drill, and they have to drill deep. In fact, one of the biggest challenges in this emerging industry is drilling deep enough to reach very high temperatures: drilling so deep is risky and expensive.

Yet geothermal energy can do very well even at shallower depths. According to a recent analysis by Rystad Energy, to generate electricity from vaporized water heated in geothermal wells, a power generation facility needs temperatures of 240 to 300 degrees Celsius. The analysis adds that up to 70 percent of geothermal production is currently used for power generation.

Indeed, with the desire to electrify everything, whether wise or not, everything revolves around electricity and, more precisely, electricity without emissions. Geothermal energy is perfect for this: although drilling a geothermal well involves equipment that uses fossil fuels, from a lifespan perspective, geothermal energy is quite comparable to wind and solar, which are also not completely emission free given the materials they need to operate. .

Yet geothermal energy has been slow to take off due to high initial costs and general uncertainty over the outcome of the drilling. Industry experts invariably note that the heat is everywhere below us, but they also want to point out that all that heat is not as easy – or economical – to reach. Iceland is still an example with its easily accessible geothermal resources, as well as Italy and Turkey.

No wonder then that a lot of geothermal energy has focused on technology to make deeper drilling economical. It was a boon to the industry that Big Oil joined in the fun. After all, these are the companies whose entry into geothermal makes the most sense, given that they are most familiar with drilling.

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Speaking of oil, some companies have researched and tested something that could extend the reach of geothermal energy and benefit oil companies: turning abandoned oil wells into geothermal wells.

A few companies are working in this direction, either by turning abandoned wells into geothermal wells or by turning them into dual-use wells that produce both heat and oil. Theoretically, turning oil wells into geothermal wells can be of great help in increasing the popularity of geothermal energy. In practice, however, it is not that simple.

For starters, the flow rates from these wells are much lower than those from newly drilled geothermal wells, Jamie Beard of the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization at the University of Texas at Austin told Oilprice. Then there’s the heat issue: most oil wells just aren’t hot enough to make economic sense if we’re talking about power generation. Third, says Beard, “existing wells often suffer from well integrity issues that will make them unsuitable for a 20- to 40-year lifespan as a producing geothermal asset.”

The good news is, that doesn’t mean turning abandoned wells into heat-producing reservoirs is completely out of the question. Remember that power generation is the primary goal of geothermal drilling, but heating should not be underestimated as an area of ​​application either.

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Some companies use abandoned wells to inject water, heat it and use it for heating. Electricity production is also not out of the question if the well is right. Still, it appears that abandoned wells are better suited for heating purposes.

Even here, however, there are challenges, says Paul Stockley, head of oil and gas at UK law firm Fieldfisher. One of them is the time that the water must remain in the well to become hot enough to be used for heating. The longer the time, the lower the viability of the system. Costs also need to be factored in, Stockley notes. Even if drilling costs are excluded from the equation, one must take into account the injection and heat transfer equipment.

It appears that abandoned wells are more viable as a source of heat for surrounding buildings and facilities. For example, Fieldfisher’s Stockley notes farms that can be heated. Since most land-based oil wells in the UK are near farmland, the match is almost perfect.

Therefore, not all abandoned oil wells are suitable for conversion to geothermal reservoirs. However, some may have a second life to heat water which could then be used to heat a neighboring installation. For power generation, new drilling seems to be the best option at the moment, overall. And, as with any other technology, costs will continue to fall, especially with the help of investments from big oil companies. there are even novelties research areas to exploit the geothermal resources of the planet: flood abandoned coal mines and use the water thus heated to produce electricity and use it for heating and cooling.

By Irina Slav for Oil Octobers

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