Hot Hot Heat: SMU Researchers Find West Virginia's Just Leaking Geothermal Energy

The so-called Google Heat Map
At month's end, researchers from SMU's Geothermal Laboratory -- among 'em, David Blackwell, Hamilton Professor of Geophysics and director of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory -- will go to Sacramento for the 2010 Geothermal Resources Council annual meeting. There, the trio will present a much more detailed version of this report just posted to the Hilltop's website, in which Blackwell, grad student Zachary Frone and geothermal expert Maria Richards say that in the western part of the Appalachian Mountains, they've discovered what could be enough Earth-made energy to potentially support "commercial baseload geothermal energy production."

In short, they say, that spot of West Virgina's extra hot just beneath the surface -- as in, 200˚C in spots as shallow as five kilometers, according to Science magazine. How come? Well ... there could be a few reasons, among the drilling of myriad oil, gas and water wells tapping into the earth's crust. Or hot springs. Or rock formations. Or something. But they're tickled by the discovery: Says Blackwell in SMU's release, "The proximity of West Virginia's large geothermal resource to east coast population centers has the potential to enhance U.S. energy security, reduce CO2 emissions, and develop high paying clean energy jobs in West Virginia."

The SMU team's research, an extension of an '04 look-see, was done with a grant from Google, which has this Heat Beneath Our Feet website worth a look.Says the paper to be presented, "The high heat flow has been recognized based on interpretation of bottom-hole temperature (BHT) data from oil and gas drilling in the area." (Stop giggling.) And the SMU team says this is a very, very big deal -- as in, the amount of energy this could provide would exceed West Virgina's total current generating capacity, most of which presently comes from coal. And it could be even more widespread than the one spot spotted -- from the Appalachians all the way down to the Ouachita Mountains.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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