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Albuquerque Tribune Newspaper Archives May 11 1974, Page 3

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Albuquerque Tribune (Newspaper) - May 11, 1974, Albuquerque, New Mexico The Albuquerque Tribune ios Alamos drilling Rig 1 seeks hot Rock not Oil t emphasis by Sandy Graham Tribune science writer far up in the Jemez mountains not far from Fenton Lake a drilling Rig towers into the Blue sky. But it s not Oil or Gas the Rig probes for in the fire scarred Meadow in the Santa Fena tonal Forest but a different kind of Energy. It is Las Alamos scientific Laboratory s unique s3 million Experiment to tap hot dry geothermal Energy trapped under the Jemez. While most geothermal pro sects employ Yellowstone Park like steam or boiling Waters los Alamos is attempting to use Ordinary hoi Rock just like you find anywhere in the world if you dig deeply enough into the Earth s crust. In the however the extremely hot Rock is much closer to the surface because it is the site of a once Active Volcano. The monster Volcano spewed Tuff and Ash for so cubic Miles to years ago before collapsing and forming the series of Jemez Mountain valleys the largest of which is the Valle Grande along Hwy. 4. Some of the heat from the initial volcanic outburst remains trapped in the Earth occasionally creeping to the surface in the form of hot Springs. A los Alamos research team headed by Morton Smith plans to Drill two holes about 200 feet apart one feet deep the other past volcanic and sedimentary Rock into water tight Granite. Conventional drills such As those used in Oil Fields will be used. At that depth or. Smith predicts the temperature will be 400 degrees fahrenheit or hotter. Encasing the holes with pipe los Alamos scientists plan to pump water Down the longer pipe under pressure causing the hot Rock to fracture in a diameter area in cracks running Northwest and Southeast. The water circulating through the shattered Rock will take on heat from the rocks Rise Back up through the cracks to the second Shorter pipe and flow Back to the surface. Smith envisions that the hot water will be used to run Small electrical generators or to heat Homes directly. The project is still experimental emphasized the group s assist ant Leader Donald Brown. There s quite a bit of research to drown said. We have some pretty Tough questions to the project was allotted is Mil lion this year by the atomic Energy commission which operates los Alamos through a contract with the University of California. Smith said amounts equal to that would be needed next year and several years beyond that. At this time one test Hole has Heen completed and a second one is partially drilled. The initial test Hole drilled in Barley Canyon in 1972, was encouraging to Smith because at Only feet the temperature was found to he a Little above boiling. The second Hole now at feet will eventually reach feet Smith said. Drilling will be finished by the end of May followed by a month of tests to Sec if we re in the right he said. At the earliest drilling on the actual experimental holes will begin in june and continue for five to six months. For six months after that a building to House the heat exchanging system and a chemical Engineer ing lab will in built. The system will need Gallons about one acre fool of water at first and will grow slowly from there Brown said. Because the land is in the Rio Grande Basin we have All the water we he added. The system is expected to be self perpetuating. Brown explained. The water will work Down and out wid ening the crack system into new hot Rock. But the Experiment is not without potential problems. Can the project group control the crack system yes we Smith answered. But to what degree we know we can open it ana1 we d like to be Aboc to hold the cracks open by water pressure there is a Chance he admitted if pressure is too High that the cracks could becoming so Large the system would t work. The team May have to prop the cracks open by putting some care fully sized particles perhaps Sand Down the Hole. This would make it More difficult to circulate water through the cracks but would allow a lower pressure. The project must also contend with the minerals dissolved in the circulating water and returned to the surface. Primarily the system will bring up several tons of Silica Beach Sand daily Brown said. Where do you put Smith asked. We d like to sell it for making bricks but we re afraid we won t have enough to interest any the Forest service and last Are working to figure out where to Dis pose of it. The Silica will probably be buried an act harmless to the environment because Silica is chemically inert. As a sidelight Smith also sees the system potentially As a very Good mining geochemist at last Are experimenting with chemical adjustments to the water to be circulated in the hot Rock to see if there is any Way the liquid will dissolve the Copper uranium thorium Gold and Silver trapped underground and leave the Silica there. This possible by product of the hot dry Rock project is strictly secondary in importance Smith quickly added. The team s primary con Cern is making the system feasible for Energy. One of the More frightening problems with the hot dry Rock concept is the possibility of setting off earthquakes in some areas. For instance. Smith explained a geothermal Plant could never be placed in the City of los Alamos because it sits on several Small faults. Scientists have found that drilling holes directly on a fault and pump ing liquid into them triggers Earth quakes. But the test project in the Jemez does t sit on a fault. Future development of this Type of geothermal Energy would merely have to avoid faults is usually pretty easy. Smith said. Smith said the future of this Type of geothermal Energy is still strictly hypothetical but he estimated that in five years the first Little Power plants producing five megawatts will be operating As demonstrators. In the Early 1980s, he continued commercial plants pretty Small at first could be built. By 1985, this Type of geothermal Energy could be producing Watts less than one per cent of the nation s Energy needs by then but by the year 2000, this could grow to five or 10 per cent of the nation s Energy needs he added. Smith predicted that initially smaller towns would employ these geothermal plants because a single system would t produce enough Energy to make it economically Fea sible for a City. Rut there is a lower limit to town size also it would be economically impossible for a Little town to invest a million dollars to Drill a geothermal operation Smith said. Brown added that towns in the Western one third of the United slates Are in the Best position to try this geothermal system because not Only is hot Rock More accessible but right sized towns Are plentiful. In new Mexico there Are Many places that fit the Early require ments of 400-degree or hotter Rock Smith said at Depths of less than feet. Socorro the area North of Silver City and possibly several Sites with in 50 Miles of Albuquerque could be used to develop geothermal plants. Once the method is proved effective the sky s the Smith said. He imagined geothermal Energy systems on the Gulf coast in Indiana and Illinois he has even had an inquiry from new York City about the feasibility of heating Manhattan Island by the dry hot Rock method. Additional ways to employ this method seem limitless Smith suggested using it to heat greenhouses to irrigate land and increase productivity with warm water to make paper pulp and to distil water the latter would be especially useful in new Mexico because of the amount of brackish water in the stale such As that found around Tularosa or on the Navajo Reserva Tion. There Are Many variations on this Brown said. If one Way does t work there Are Many others for us to try. As a russian scientist told me the idea is so Good you will find a Way to make it work " saturday May 11, 1974 a-3 constructing Drill Rig a construction worker welds in place another portion of the drilling Rig which is now in operation Al the second test sire Boring Down through sedimentary and volcanic Rock into Granite. The second site in the Santa Fena tonal Forest near Fenton Lake will be tested of see if it is in an appropriate area for an actual test system. Vertically oriented crack produced by Hydraulic fracturing Thermal Region c first trial Morton Smith los Alamos geothermal in Barley Canyon in 1972. The test results Energy group Leader confers with Potter were encouraging or. Smith said because at a scientist on the geothermal project at the Only feet the Rock temperature was site of the lab s first hot dry Rock test Hole found to be a Little above boiling. Hof dry Energy system in ios Alamos hot dry geothermal Experiment two holes one deeper than the other will be drilled into watertight Granite As the diagram shows. By pumping water Down the longer pipe under pressure scientists will Frac Ture the 400-degree fahrenheit Rock. The water circulating through the cracks will pick up heat return to the surface and run generators

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