Saskatchewan’s deepest well ever is being drilled near Estevan, but it’s not for oil.
Saskatoon-based company DEEP Earth Energy Production (DEEP) has started drilling on the first geothermal power facility in all of Canada.
It’s for a project to mine natural heat and produce clean, renewable energy for the province. The 3,500 metre venture into the earth will reach a very hot aquifer, described as a stack of pancakes holding salt water called brine.
The aquifer is located in the Williston Basin, which stretches into Montana and the Dakotas and is known for its petroleum, potash and coal.
DEEP President and CEO Kirsten Marcia said until now, there hasn’t been much attention on geothermal energy in Canada. While the hot resource is known to be there, she explained it has been ignored as a commodity while chasing oil and gas.
Marcia, who is originally from the Estevan area, said it is a little ironic for DEEP to build this alternative energy facility in the oil patch as it will use the industry expertise to drill all of its wells.
“We wouldn’t know this resource was even there if the oil and gas industry hadn’t drilled into it in their exploration for oil over the years.”
The brine in this part of Saskatchewan has temperatures exceeding 120 C but is considered a low-temperature geothermal system.
“We don’t have hot springs, we don’t have geysers here,” said Marcia. “This is not steam rocketing out of the ground that’s driving a turbine.”
Instead, DEEP has to make its own steam by running the hot water through a heat exchanger. That heat is then introduced to a fluid with a low boiling point that creates vapour, which drives the turbine.
Marcia said there are huge benefits to this system. There are no emissions and the geothermal energy will provide baseload power that runs 24/7. The project has an initial cost of $50 million but once the facility is up and running, Marcia explained not a lot of maintenance is required to keep it going.
The first well being drilled will be used for testing before power starts generating in the spring of 2019. The facility will start generating five megawatts, which is enough to power 5,000 homes. The long-term goal is to develop hundreds of megawatts of power by drilling more wells, adding cookie-cutter five to 20 megawatt plants.