Jeremy Alford

Geothermal projects on tap

by Jeremy Alford

The U.S. Department of Energy has thrown about $670,000 LSU’s way and the flagship is giving all the loot to the state’s premier geological research center to launch three different geothermal energy projects. Louisiana Geological Survey, located on campus, is no stranger to the field and has been studying the alternative source for years.

Geopressured energy, or geothermal energy, is derived from hot, pressurized waters trapped deep in the earth’s sedimentary formations. The water, heated by the earth’s natural processes, can be used to generate electrical power. Such energy can be captured from man-made sources as well.

The first project seeks to capture and transport CO2 from petrochemical facilities located along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans for geologic storage. It’s headed up by Shell. There’s already an existing so-called green pipeline being operated by Denbury Onshore. It transports a CO2 stream across 320 miles beginning in Donaldsonville and ending in the Hastings Oil Field, south of Houston. There, the CO2 will be used for enhanced oil recovery operations. This process calls for CO2 to be pumped into the ground, where it pushes up oil that’s been left over by previous, traditional operations.

The second project will “demonstrate the feasibility” of a geopressured-geothermal power plant in Cameron Parish. Louisiana Geothermal, which oversees the power plant operations of the Sweet Lake Geopressured-Geothermal Project, also landed $5 million in federal stimulus money earlier this year. Research suggests there’s enough of this alternative energy source in the ground in the Cameron Parish area to last more than 130 years.

The third project creates what is being called the Natural Geothermal Data System, an integrated distributed and searchable data system of state-specific geothermal data. It’s expected to spur renewed efforts to identify, assess and exploit geothermal energy resources in the United States.

Chacko John, state geologist and LGS director, says all of the projects are establishing a framework for would could be a new economic development driver in the Bayou State. “We have known for a long time that there is tremendous potential for geothermal energy production on the Gulf Coast,” says John. “With the right economic conditions, and with today’s emphasis on alternative energy resources, and increasing energy costs, this could be a potential boon for Louisiana.”