Converting Oil Wells to Geothermal: Interview with the University of Oklahoma Sooners Geothermal Team

Published
American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Converting old oil and gas wells to geothermal wells and energy storage has been the goal of many individuals and companies seeking energy transition solutions. While there have been many studies and plans, there are far fewer examples of successful implementations. Welcome to an interview with a team of University of Oklahoma graduate students, and their advisor, Dr. Saeed Salehi, Associate Professor a the University of Oklahoma Mewbourne

What is the name of the team, and who were the team members?

The name of the team is Sooners Geothermal and consists of a diverse 9-person team:

  • Cesar Vivas-Ph.D. Petroleum Engineering
  • Alex Cedola-Ph.D. Petroleum Engineering
  • Mjeed Mohamed-Ph.D. Petroleum Engineering
  • Yuxing Wu-Ph.D. Petroleum Engineering
  • Karelia La Marca-Ph.D. Geophysics
  • Camila Castillo-MSc. Petroleum Engineering
  • Esteban Ugarte-MSc. Petroleum Engineering
  • Daniel Tetteh-MSc. Petroleum Engineering
  • Chinedu Nwosu-MSc. Petroleum Engineering

The team all have different backgrounds and research interests that aided in the success of the project.

With which department, program, and University is it affiliated?

The team consists of masters and doctoral students from the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy located at the University of Oklahoma-Norman campus. Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, established in 2006, is comprised of the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering, and the Oklahoma Geological Society.

Who were the faculty sponsors/mentors?

The teams faculty sponsor is Dr. Saeed Salehi, an Associate Professor of Petroleum Engineering for Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering (MPGE) at the University of Oklahoma. His research interests are well construction, integrity and safety, geothermal energy, carbon capture and utilization, and subsurface energy storage. Dr. Salehi has been at OU since 2016.

What was the nature of the contest?

The Department of Energy (DoE) Geothermal Collegiate Competition allows students to further their knowledge in geothermal development, planning, and design. Students are also able to familiarize themselves with geothermal field-related software and are encouraged to interact with the community to understand how they perceive geothermal energy.

Please describe the entry:
What was the name?

The title of our entry is: “Repurposing Abandoned O&G Wells for Geothermal Use”.

Where was it located?

Figure 1. Map of the project site in Shawnee, OK with the targeted end-users (Google Earth, 2022).
Figure 1. Map of the project site in Shawnee, OK with the targeted end-users (Google Earth, 2022).
The project location is in Shawnee, Oklahoma which is approximately 45 minutes east of Oklahoma City and 30 miles east of Norman. It is located in Pottawatomie County and is home to the Absentee Shawnee Tribe and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

What was the design?

The design involved converting 6 previously drilled oil and gas wells to either injector or producing wells for the purpose of geothermal energy production.

What was the cost?

Figure 2. Schematic diagram of the reservoir simulation model.
Figure 2. Schematic diagram of the reservoir simulation model.
The total capital cost for the project is $3.4 million with a 6-year payback period. Because the project uses wells that have been previously drilled, drilling costs are significantly reduced and existing surface infrastructure could be adapted to geothermal usage, making the project less costly than a start-up geothermal project.

Is it operational now?

The project is not currently operational, however, OU has received a DoE grant that will convert abandoned oil and gas wells to geothermal wells to heat/cool two schools in Tuttle, Oklahoma. Implementation of this grant could have an impact on geothermal energy production in Oklahoma and allow the Sooners Geothermal project, and others similar to it, to be carried out in the future.

Can it be implemented in other places? Where? How?

This project could be implemented in other areas depending upon a variety of factors including but not limited to the geothermal gradient, abandoned or low producing oil and gas wells within the proposed project area, governmental regulations, and stakeholders within the community of the project area. Based off of the teams knowledge, a number of areas within the state of Oklahoma as well as surrounding states may be eligible for direct-use geothermal energy production, specifically when a number of abandoned oil and gas wells are within the vicinity.

What are the characteristics of the ideal conversion prospect?

For this project and any subsequent projects similar in nature, an ideal conversion prospect is an area that has an abundance of abandoned or orphaned oil and gas well that have been drilled to a depth that reach temperatures of approximately 120˚F. Ideally, there would be an energy provider within the vicinity that utilizes geothermal energy for heating and cooling to significantly reduce the cost of additional surface equipment.

What are your plans for the future?

The teams plans for the future are to continue to compete in the DoE Geothermal Collegiate Competition and further promote geothermal energy within the state of Oklahoma as well as in the U.S. Being a collegiate team, it is inevitable that one or more members of the team will graduate prior to the next challenge; the team looks forward to adding new members that will continue to identify potential sites where geothermal energy may be feasible and work with local communities to help better their understanding of why geothermal energy is beneficial.

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