Exploration and Economic Potential of Geothermal Steam in Western Canada

Common properties of commercial geothermal steam reservoirs are a magmatic heat source, the presence of water in vapour and liquid phases, and a surrounding seal of low permeability. The latter may be due to a combination of hydrologic load, argillic alteration and mineral precipitates. The temperature and pressure of vapour and liquid co-existing in equilibrium at maximum enthalpy may approximate 451}°F and 450 psi. Steam reservoirs do not necessarily vent steam, but fluid which breaches and mixes with meteoric waters may emerge as hot springs. A systematic exploration program in Western Canada would involve a sequence of four stages utilizing geological, geochemical and geophysical techniques. The geochemical parameters of hot spring waters, such as silica, lithium and potassium content, give some indication of the basic reservoir temperature. The geology of Quaternary volcanics, including reservoir rocks, structure and rock alteration, is of prime importance. The costs of preliminary indirect methods are no more than those of oil and gas exploration; however, high temperatures compound drilling problems and costs. Exploration expenditures of twenty million dollars or so might be needed for a significant discovery. British Columbia and the Yukon Territory contain abundant Cenozoic volcanic rocks and over 50 thermal spring complexes (some with as many as 20 springs in one complex). Six regions are tentatively picked for exploration. Four regions coincide geographically with post-1980 electric power facilities and loads, and with possible alternatives such as potential dam sites. The Lillooet River region, Terrace region and Western Vancouver Island region have inferred potential for the existence of a plus-500-Mw geothermal reservoir. The Kootenay region may or may not have such potential. The Stikine River region has strong evidence of geothermal endowment, but the anticipated power market of the middle future might be only 30-50 Mw. The Whitehorse, Y.T., and Atlin, B.C., region has a belt of thermal springs and Recent cinder cones. The anticipated middle-future needs are real enough, but in absolute terms they are small, say 20-30 Mw. Legislation* and policy on geothermal resource rights are lacking in British Columbia and the Yukon Territory at this time. As well as making policy, governmental organizations will play a significant role in geothermal development as buyers of steam or electricity. The role of industry is visualized as assumin~ the high-cost and high-risk exploration effort, provided the nature of this effort is understood by government
Keywords: British Columbia, British Columbia Energy Board, Geothermal Energy, hot springs, Stikine River, Vancouver Island, exploration, Geothermal, Resources, Rock, Rocks, Steam, Water, Waters
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