Geothermal Microseismic Research Project

In the summer of 2003, a cutting-edge research program was launched in Mammoth Lakes.

Duke University, the California Energy Commission, the World Bank’s Global Environmental Facility, the United Nations’ Environmental Program and Mammoth Geothermal Complex partnered to perform research that would enable more effective and efficient geothermal exploration.

The project involves studying microearthquakes in order to test the hypothesis that the epicenters of these very small earthquakes are a good tool for identifying geothermal resources. More specifically, seismically active faults would help find permeable, fractured rock which is essential for successful geothermal wells.

Furthermore, they collected magnetotelluric data that helps measure underground water flows and is a proven technology for geothermal research.

It was hoped that this research would provide a less expensive, reliable and more efficient method for siting geothermal wells. As a result, this research may have significant benefits for the entire geothermal industry—both in the United States and globally. In fact, a doctoral student from Kenya also participated in the project so that he can take what he learned back to Kenya. It is estimated that Kenya has enough geothermal resources to power their entire country, and it would improve air quality that is currently polluted by the diesel power systems currently in use.

Under the project, a team from Duke University, led by Dr. Peter Malin, installed 20 highly sensitive temporary seismometers on Ormat’s federal geothermal leases. These collected seismic data that was used to plot epicenters and see what this might reveal about the geologic structure underground. This technique, in tandem with other geophysical techniques, will help locate potential wells to be drilled at a later time. 

Ormat is delighted to participate in this collaborative research project by providing access to the sites, data and some funding. 

Demonstrating a Microearthquake and MT based well targeting technology 2006

Poster summarizing project results Duke University