Hydraulic fracturing could improve geothermal energy - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Hydraulic fracturing could improve geothermal energy

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Brooks McCabe Brooks McCabe

Brooks McCabe is managing member and broker of West Virginia Commercial LLC. He has been involved in commercial and investment real estate for more than 30 years, and he also is general partner of McCabe Land Co. LP. He has served in the West Virginia Senate since 1998, and is a special project consultant to The State Journal.

A recent issue of The Economist had an article titled “Geothermal Energy, Hot Rocks, Why Geothermal Is the New Fracking.” The month before, a New York Times article titled, “Geothermal Industry Grows, With Help from Oil and Gas Drilling.”

The energy industry is evolving continuously, and the technology being used and developed in West Virginia is playing a significant role. Hydraulic fracturing is becoming a topic worldwide and its implications are enormous. Now the discussion is being expanded to geothermal energy. Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) use similar technology to that of the oil and natural gas industry. Although questions remain, the opportunities with EGS appear significant.

West Virginia and its natural gas industry have roles to play in geothermal energy's future. Much of the Potomac Highlands and North Central West Virginia have been found to be a geothermal hot spot. Marshall University has been studying the potential economic impacts of geothermal energy in the state. The West Virginia Geologic and Economic Survey has received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to collect data on the types and depths of rock formations that have a high potential for geothermal drilling. West Virginia University has considered its Morgantown campus as a possible case study to demonstrate the economic viability of geothermal heating and electric power generation.

Geothermal energy is identified as an eligible alternative source of energy in West Virginia's Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. The Standard requires investor-owned utilities to have 25 percent alternate and renewable energy resources by 2025. At least 90 percent of this must come from eligible sources other than natural gas. Solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric are all identified, but geothermal may be West Virginia's ace in the hole if the technology can be perfected within the decade.

This is where the natural gas industry and EGS come into play. Remember that the first horizontal well in West Virginia was drilled in 2008 and it came online in 2009. In the five years since, the technology has been dramatically improved. The shale gas revolution was born and reached international proportions. With the skills and technology available in industry and our universities, the next 10 years should be an amazing show of engineering and scientific knowhow. The question is, will we let it occur?

The Economist article acknowledges that geothermal energy has not created much controversy to-date. However, with the increasing feasibility of EGS, geothermal fracking is beginning to get the attention of the environmental community. Geothermal's fate as a significant alternative fuel source is being joined with that of the natural gas industry. Fracking has become a bad word to many individuals. The industry has the science and technology to address the vast majority of the concerns. However, rogue operators and new issues coming to the forefront have kept the industry off balance. Many believe the industry is losing the public relations battle.

New technologies often are cautiously received by a skeptical public. The history of technology transfer is fraught with battles to win the hearts and minds of the consuming public. Hydraulic fracturing is proving that it is no exception to the rough road new technologies often follow on the way to public acceptance. This is not to imply that the oil and gas industry can assume it will ultimately win. There is no doubt the industry will survive. The real question is whether the industry can convince — in a timely manner — a skeptical public, along with city and county land use regulators, that horizontal drilling and the fracking of these wells is in the best interest of their communities. West Virginia is on the cusp of perhaps the biggest opportunity in its history. Failing to bring along an accepting public can result in West Virginia missing the opportunity to assume a role of national leadership as an energy state.

West Virginia and its natural gas industry should play a major role in the development and acceptance of geothermal energy. If West Virginia is to be a true leader in the energy economy of the 21st century, it needs to understand that all of its energy resources play a part in keeping the lights on. Coal and gas are the main players today, but tomorrow will have a differing order of prioritization. Industry needs to work in unison to make the utilization of West Virginia's energy resources as seamless as possible while using their world class skills and technology to advance the state's economic prosperity. The technology being developed by the natural gas industry may do far more than lead the shale gas revolution, it may also bring about a whole new technological revolution in geothermal energy. If we can get our act together, West Virginia over the next 10 or 20 years will be an exciting place to live, work and recreate. Perhaps one day, hydraulic fracturing will be viewed as one of the innovative technologies that gave the 21st century its jump start while at the same time putting West Virginia on the global energy map.