In 2005 oil and gas (O&G) producers began implementing a technique that turned the world energy market upside down, hydraulic fracturing. Basically, drilling sideways and creating a series of fractures with fluid. The implementation of hydraulic fracturing essentially made the shale boom. My birthday is on Earth Day, and I have always considered myself an environmentalist; even in 2005 I was 9 years old. I barely knew any “bad” f words, but I learned quickly that fracking was one of them. Fracturing was written with a k, like a cuss word and its potential was overlooked because of the association with demonized O&G companies.
What does hydraulic fracturing have to do with geothermal energy? Let’s start with what is a geothermal system; it’s a heat exchange system implemented in part of bedrock that has absorbed heat that has been radiated from the center of the earth, due to radioactive decay. Conventional or Traditional geothermal systems are utilized for energy production in areas that already have natural fractures with fluid able to flow to the surface from these hot rocks. In all geothermal systems, water is continuously injected and produced creating a 24/7 energy generation process. However, geothermal systems cannot be implemented everywhere without some engineering. Advanced and enhanced geothermal systems have been developed and are engineered systems that carry out geothermal heat extraction in places conventional cannot.
Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) utilize hydraulic fracturing in areas where the rocks are hot but there is not enough naturally existing fluid flow (permeability) for water to get to the surface. Hydraulic fracturing creates artificial fractures and mimics natural fracture systems. More cracks in the hot rocks means water can flow over more of the hot rock, improving heat exchange. Hydraulic fracturing is the basis of EGS and is the key to unlocking energy for everyone.
Every technology has safety measures, seat belts in cars, warning signs on hairdriers, and induced seismicity monitoring for hydraulic fracturing. Risk prevention measures are necessary, and for hydraulic fracturing this can be done with microseismic monitoring. By installing geophones when EGS plants are built not only can operations know in real-time the magnitude of their seismic events large or small, they can also get data on the geomechanics to find orientation of fractures, stress regimes, and monitor over the life of the plant. Microseismic monitoring is vital for understanding each unique geothermal system, and is risk management must with 24/7 induced seismic monitoring.
MicroSeismic Inc. has provided micro-seismic monitoring activities for hydraulic fracturing sites throughout the shale boom and to this day. MicroSeismic Inc. has expertise founded in the O&G industry and has grown to monitor Karst, Carbon capture, and geothermal systems. The new division of MicroSesimic Inc.,
MicroThermal Energy, focuses on monitoring enhanced geothermal systems. MicroSeismic Inc. is a fantastic example of the implementation of O&G expertise in the energy transition.
We all must work together for progress in the energy transition.