Stratabound Geothermal Resources in North Dakota and South Dakota


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Abstract

Geothermal energy resources in North Dakota and South Dakota occur as low (T < 90°C) and intermediate (T < 150°C) temperature geothermal waters in regional-scale aquifers within the Williston and Kennedy Basins. The accessible resource base is approximately 21.25 exajoules (1018 J = 1 exajoule, 1018 J ˜ 1015 Btu = 1 quad) in North Dakota and 12.25 exajoules in South Dakota. Resource temperatures range from 40°C at depths of about 700 m to 150°C at 4500 m in the Williston Basin in North Dakota. In South Dakota, resource temperatures range from 44°C at a depth of 550 m near Pierre to 100°C at a depth of 2500 m in the northwestern corner. This resource assessment raises the identified accessible resource base by 31% above the previous assessments and by 310% over an earlier assessment. The large increases in the identified accessible resource bases reported in this study result from including all potential geothermal aquifers and better understanding of the thermal regime of the region. These results imply that a reassessment of stratabound geothermal resources in the United States that includes all geothermal aquifers would increase significantly the identified accessible resource base. The Williston Basin in North Dakota is characterized by conductive heat flows ranging from 43 to 68 mW m−2 and averaging 55 mW m−2. Comparisons of calculated and bottomhole temperatures measured in oil fields over the Nesson Anticline and the Billings Nose show temperature differences which suggest that upward groundwater flow in fractures on the westward sides of the structures slightly perturbs the otherwise conductive thermal field. The maximum heat-flow disturbance is estimated to be of the order of 10 to 20 mW m−2. These thermal anomalies do not alter significantly the accessible geothermal resource base. Anomalous heat flow in south-central South Dakota is caused by heat advection in gravity-driven groundwater flow in regional aquifers. Heat flow is anomalously high (Q > 130 mW m−2) in the discharge area in south-central South Dakota and anomalously low (≈30 mW m2) in the recharge area near the Black Hills and along the western limb of the Kennedy Basin in western South Dakota. Heat-flow disturbances are the result of vertical groundwater flow through fractures in the discharge area of the regional flow system in South Dakota are minor and may be significant only in deeply incised stream valleys. An important factor that controls the temperature of the resource in both North Dakota and South Dakota is the insulating effect of a thick (500–2000 m) layer of low thermal-conductivity shales that overlie the region. The effective thermal conductivity of the shale layer is approximately 1.2 W m−1 K−1 in contrast to sandstones and carbonates, which have conductivities of 2.5 to 3.5 W m−1 K−1. This low conductivity leads to high geothermal gradients (dT/dz > 50°C km−1), even where heat flow has normal continental values, that is 40–60 mW m−2. Engineering studies show that geothermal space heating using even the lowest temperature geothermal aquifers (T ≈ 40 °C) in North Dakota and South Dakota is cost effective at present economic conditions. The Inyan Kara Formation of the Dakota Group (Cretaceous) is the preferred geothermal aquifer in terms of water quality and productivity. Total dissolved solids in the Inyan Kara Formation ranges from 3,000 to more than 20,000 mg L−1. Porosities normally are higher than 20%, and the optimum producing zones generally are thicker than 30 m. The estimated water productivity index of a productive well in the Inyan Kara Formation is 0.254179 l s−1 Mpa−1. Deeper formations have warmer waters, but, in general, are less permeable and have poorer water quality than the Inyan Kara.

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