Project stakeholders and university leadership cut the ceremonial ribbon in front of a future geothermal well.
OCTOBER 11, 2022 | BY SARAH WARREN
On Sept. 22, 2022, the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy and OU leadership joined local, state and national leaders at a well site nestled in a Tuttle, Oklahoma, pasture to celebrate the start of a research project that is the first of its kind in the world.
The event, co-hosted by OU alumni-owned Blue Cedar Energy, launched a project that will see four retired oil wells retrofitted into geothermal wells. Though researchers around the globe have run simulations and models to show such a concept may work, OU faculty members will be the first to actually attempt it.
Once modifications are complete, researchers will spend the next year measuring the energy production to determine if actual output aligns with their estimates and models. If all goes as they expect, the team will apply for more funding to connect the wells to two nearby Tuttle schools, and geothermal energy will heat the buildings.
The ribbon-cutting event was attended by Oklahoma state senators Mary Boren and Lonnie Paxton, officials from the City of Tuttle and Tuttle Public Schools, as well as George Stutz, a representative from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Office in Golden, Colorado.
Saeed Salehi, associate professor in the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering and project principal investigator.
Mike Stice, dean of OU’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy.
“This project shows the synergy that can occur when we work together,” said Mike Stice, dean of the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy.
The research project was made a reality through the collaborative efforts of university researchers and staff with a privately owned company, a federal-level grant, and a local city government and school district.
Saeed Salehi, associate professor in the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering and project principal investigator, believes this project could have a significant impact on Oklahoma and other areas not traditionally viewed as prime locations for geothermal energy.
Salehi noted that the thousands of retired oil wells across Oklahoma are a unique asset.
— Dr. Saeed Salehi
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Stice told attendees that this research could be a real game changer.
“Oklahoma is blessed with an abundance of low-temperature geothermal energy sources,” Stice said. “We are innovating technology and protocols to make this type of geothermal energy successful. Geothermal energy is a discipline that complements longstanding research at the Mewbourne College and other areas throughout OU. We are leveraging our combined skill to make geothermal energy in Oklahoma a reality.”
The geothermal well project was funded by a $1.7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. With the addition of the wells and equipment donated by Blue Cedar Energy, and added funding from Baker Hughes, the project is valued at nearly $3 million.
This is not just a cattle field.
You are standing atop thousands of feet of dirt, rock, minerals, gases and liquids — formations that mark time and map our constantly-changing world. By understanding stratigraphic units and other key measurements, OU researchers have determined the appropriate depths for geothermal extraction and injection from the inactive hydrocarbon wells.
From OU research labs to K-12 classrooms.
Current Phase: Salehi and his team of researchers anticipate they will spend the next three years retrofitting the four oil wells and then measuring the wells’ energy production to see if actual output aligns with their estimates and models, and if the wells will create enough energy to heat two nearby schools.
Future Phase: Once their current project is completed, Mewbourne College researchers can apply for new grants and state-matching funds to make heating the schools with geothermal energy a possibility.
Learn more here about the many ways researchers at Mewbourne College are investigating the viability of geothermal energy in Oklahoma.
The Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy improves people’s lives through research, education and service by studying Earth’s past and present, developing new energy tools and resources, and creating geoscientists and engineers who work across disciplines to address some of society’s most critical challenges.
Sarah Warren is the director of communications and events at the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy. For the last four years, she's been writing and telling the stories of Mewbourne College. Her work has landed stories on Vox, Forbes and countless other news outlets across the country. For media inquiries, you can email Sarah or call her at 405-325-8981.