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OU researchers aim to repurpose abandoned oil wells for geothermal energy

Jeff W

Researchers at the University of Oklahoma were awarded $1.7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to repurpose abandoned oil and gas wells for providing geothermal energy.

The grant will allow the researchers to evaluate and demonstrate the viability of geothermal energy production from four hydrocarbon wells. The proposed project plans to use the energy to heat nearby Tuttle Public Schools.

The project’s principal investigator, Saeed Salehi, said the idea to upcycle the old wells is a cost-efficient way to use infrastructure already in place.

“After you have produced oil and gas from those reservoirs and they are toward the end of their life, then instead of retiring those assets, [we] completely repurpose them to help the community with their energy needs,” Salehi said.

To turn an abandoned oil well into a functional site for geothermal energy, the set-up will pump hot underground water to the surface, create steam, and that steam spins a turbine attached to an electric generator. Salehi said because the water is being circulated from the ground and injected back into the ground, it’s completely renewable.

The project is still in its infancy, and Salehi said the team must first come up with a proof-of-concept before getting started on field work. Though it could be at least three years before the project is put into use, Salehi hopes this novel idea will catch the attention of energy companies and put Oklahoma on the map for another form of renewable energy.

“The vision we have is to make Oklahoma the [geothermal energy capital] of the world. Because we have the resources, we have these wells, we have this fossil fuel industry active here,” Salehi said. “And everybody’s talking about renewable energy and reducing the carbon footprint — there you go.”

The initiative is in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Blue Cedar Energy and Baker Hughes Company. More information about the project can be found here.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Beth reports on education topics for StateImpact Oklahoma.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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