Geologist Steve Grasby of Natural Resources Canada plans to lead a team of researchers to Mount Cayley, near Whistler.
Even though the last lava flow from this site dates back to the 1700s, there is still plenty of heat underground. The team hopes to draw a three-dimensional image of the innards of Mount Cayley to help geothermal energy companies find where the highest temperatures and hottest groundwater are.
The rock formation is part of the same mountain range as well-known volcanic peaks such as Mount Saint Helens in Washington state.
At nearby Mount Meager, a well drilled in the 1970s recorded temperatures of 250 degrees Celsius 1.5 kilometers deep.
When it comes to temperature, it’s a world-class resource argues Mr. Grasby.
A three-dimensional map
Geothermal power plants generate electricity from the heat contained in groundwater. Their success depends on drilling wells in just the right place to find the most water at the highest temperatures.
According to Grasby, the labor is so expensive that geothermal drilling companies need a 50% success rate to be viable. Oil and gas drillers only need to be right one in seven times.
He and his colleagues are trying to find ways to help drillers improve their success rate by creating a three-dimensional map of Cayley’s innards without using traditional tools like seismic lines.
Part of the map will be drawn through the basic geology. The team will analyze what types of rocks are present to determine their degree of permeability or porosity, or to locate and map fault systems that may contain hot water.
They will also analyze how electromagnetic energy travels through the volcano, creating what the scientist likens to X-ray imagery similar to what one might get in a hospital.
” You can begin to develop a three-dimensional image of what lies underground. By collecting these observations all around the volcano, you can begin to see that there is a magma chamber 10 kilometers deep or a reservoir filled with hot fluid 2 kilometers away. »
A renewable resource
Canada has a few geothermal projects underway.
Companies in Saskatchewan and British Columbia have drilled wells and many more are planning to do so in the future. For its part, Alberta has joined British Columbia in developing regulations for geothermal development.
But no geothermal wells are yet producing power, making Canada the only country in the Pacific Ring of Fire not to.