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Is part of our area’s future bubbling underground?

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Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 11:00 am

Could Marlin’s historic past, which led John McGraw’s New York Giants here, somehow, someday become its economic future?

The answer is “possibly,” with enough drilling work and investment dollars.

Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Lab is a leader in geothermal research in the U.S. And, last year, David Blackwell, W. B. Hamilton Professor of Geophysics at SMU, and Maria Richards, the SMU Geothermal Lab coordinator, released research showing that the United States potentially could generate more than 3 million megawatts of green power, or 10 times that of current coal-fired electric power plants.

And, some of that is in Texas. No, there’s no geysers bursting out of the ground, unlike Yellowstone National Park; there’s no bubbling mud pots, unlike there and places like Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

But the city does have the water that gives it the slogan of “Mineral Water City of Texas,” that produces passive heat for Falls Community Hospital.

In fact, Blackwell has strong research evidence that geothermal energy is not always dependent on hot fluids near the surface. According to him and others from the SMU lab, new techniques allow electricity to be produced geothermically at lower temperatures than are found in a geyser field, and without the same amount of naturally-occurring fluids.

He has said that, for  example, enhanced geothermal energy systems (EGS) rely on injecting fluids to be heated by the earth into subsurface formations, sometimes created by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Blackwell noted the potential for synergy between geothermal energy production and the oil and gas industry, explaining that an area previously “fracked” for oil and gas production (creating an underground reservoir) is primed for the heating of fluids for geothermal energy production once the oil and gas plays out.  Indeed, in Coryell County a few years ago, oil drillers wound up hitting a “steam well.”

Now, the SMU researchers, and other folks, note that any geothermal energy development won’t be easy, quick, or inexpensive. But, they estimate that it potentially offers hundreds of years of electric energy at Texas’ current electric use rates.

For the rest of the story, see this week's Democrat.

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