Jemez Pueblo gains funds for geothermal exploration

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By Roger Snodgrass

   -- LANL partners in project funded by stimulus grant.

  A 20-year effort to tap into the volcanic heat of a mountain has taken what may be a decisive turn for the Pueblo of Jemez.

The pueblo emerged as a big winner in a recent round of Department of Energy stimulus funding for geothermal projects. In a partnership with Los Alamos National Laboratory, the pueblo was awarded nearly $5 million to pursue renewable energy resources over the next couple of years.

Steve Blodgett, the pueblo's environmental manager and the principal investigator for the project said hot water seeps had long been noticed near the bank of the Jemez River, in an area known as Indian Springs.

In 1989, the pueblo got a grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to explore the location, about a mile south of the Pueblo, Blodgett said. A shallow well was installed that pumped about 150 gallons of water at 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

"The interpretation was that this was a small reservoir, probably connected with a deeper source," Blodgett said. "But because there are no wells in the area deeper than 350 feet, no one knows what's going on at depth."

Ken Rehfeldt, who is managing LANL's technical assistance for the project said, "We're going to do some investigation and see if there is something bigger there."

The laboratory's role in the project will be to provide geological mapping and scientific expertise to help the pueblo and state officials evaluate the geothermal resource.

Specifically, Rehfeldt said, "We'll try to use gravity and electrical methods, combined with seismic studies to get a picture of what the subsurface is like, and then we'll use that to pick the best drill site. LANL's share of funding for the project will be about $688,000. The lab is also assisting in three other geothermal projects funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, two with the University of Utah and a relatively small project with New Mexico Tech to assist with training on modeling tools for a district heating system.

The pueblo would like to see if there is enough heat to power a steam-turbine generator.

"In order for it to be a commercial scale power resource, we would need to find 2,000 gallons a minute at 200 degrees Fahrenheit," said Blodgett. "Anything less is not enough for power generation."

Blodgett and his team expect to be able to put two wells down as far as 3,000 feet looking for the possibility of a deeper reservoir. That is planned for next winter. Then the data will be evaluated and this phase of the project finished by the end of 2011.

"DOE will bring in an independent third party contractor to verify the data and we will have a fully verified resource," he said. "With any luck if we have enough heat, we can take that to investors and start talking about developing it.

If there is not enough water at sufficient temperature, other alternatives might be possible.

"We need 600 gallons a minute at 135-140 degrees Fahrenheit for a spa therapy center," Blodgett said. "But the water would have to be cooled down for that."

Other possibilities include a greenhouse and an aquaculture facility for raising fish.

The geothermal project is just one aspect of the tribe's aggressive renewable energy program.

Blodgett said that the pueblo has a biomass project that is installing a furnace to burn cord wood for heat, which will save on energy costs.

They are also developing a 3.5 Megawatt solar energy project and looking for a power purchaser like the Jemez Mountain Electric Co-op or LANL.

Blodgett has a master's degree in mining reclamation. He said he worked as a private consultant for LANL in 1984 and was involved in reclamation in Butte, Montana at the nation's largest superfund site. For the last 10 years he has worked for tribal governments including six years for the Pueblo of Jemez.