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3-D geologic controls of hydrothermal fluid flow at Brady geothermal field, Nevada, USA

April 10, 2021

In many hydrothermal systems, fracture permeability along faults provides pathways for groundwater to transport heat from depth. Faulting generates a range of deformation styles that cross-cut heterogeneous geology, resulting in complex patterns of permeability, porosity, and hydraulic conductivity. Vertical connectivity (a throughgoing network of permeable areas that allows advection of heat from depth to the shallow subsurface) is rare and is confined to relatively small volumes that have highly variable spatial distribution. This local compartmentalization of connectivity represents a significant challenge to understanding hydrothermal circulation and for exploring, developing, and managing hydrothermal resources. Here, we present an evaluation of the geologic characteristics that control this compartmentalization in hydrothermal systems through 3-D analysis of the Brady geothermal field in western Nevada. A published 3-D geologic map of the Brady area is used as a basis to develop structural and geological variables that are hypothesized to control or effect permeability or connectivity. The 3-D distribution of these variables is compared to the distribution of productive and non-productive fluid flow intervals along production wells and non-productive wells via principal component analysis (PCA). This comparison elucidates which geologic and structural variables are most closely associated with productive fluid flow intervals. Results indicate that production intervals at Brady are located: (1) within or near to known and stress-loaded macro-scale faults, and (2) in areas of high fault and fracture density.