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Discovery of a blind geothermal system in Southern Gabbs Valley, western Nevada, through application of the play fairway analysis at multiple scales

December 1, 2018

The Great Basin region is capable of generating much greater amounts of geothermal energy than currently produced. Most geothermal resources in this region are blind, and thus favorable characteristics for geothermal activity must be synthesized and methodologies developed to discover new commercial-grade systems. The geothermal play fairway concept involves integration of multiple parameters indicative of geothermal activity to identify promising areas for new development. In the Nevada play fairway project, geologic, geochemical, and geophysical parameters were initially synthesized to produce a new geothermal potential map of 96,000 km2. Southern Gabbs Valley in western Nevada is a particularly promising site selected for detailed study. It contains favorable structural settings, including Quaternary fault intersections and a displacement transfer zone. Geologic, geophysical, and geochemical techniques were employed to define the most likely sites for high permeability and select targets for temperature-gradient holes. Permeability models were revised to reflect results of detailed analyses and generate new detailed play fairway maps. The most promising site lies in an area of multiple fault intersections in a broader displacement transfer zone directly north of the Petrified Springs dextral fault, as revealed by gravity, magnetic, and MT data. A 2-m temperature anomaly and warm temperature gradient wells (~120oC at ~150 m depth) confirm the presence of a geothermal system and provide initial validation of the play fairway methodology. The system is blind, with no surface hot springs, fumaroles, or paleo-geothermal deposits. Lessons learned in the detailed studies include: 1) initially identified sites commonly include multiple favorable settings at a finer scale; 2) promising sites in Cenozoic basins cannot be recognized without detailed geophysical surveys; and 3) play fairway analysis is critical at multiple scales.

  • USGS Source: Publications Warehouse (indexId: 70201803)