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Geothermal implications of a refined composition-age geologic map for the volcanic terrains of southeast Oregon, northeast California, and southwest Idaho, USA

September 30, 2017

Sufficient temperatures to generate steam likely exist under most of the dominantly volcanic terrains of southeast Oregon, northeast California, and southeast Idaho, USA, but finding sufficient permeability to allow efficient advective heat exchange is an outstanding challenge. A new thematic interpretation of existing state-level geologic maps provides an updated and refined distribution of the composition and age of geologic units for the purposes of assessing the implications for measurement and development of geothermal resources. This interpretation has been developed to better understand geothermal and hydrologic resources of the region. Comparison of the new geologic categories with available hydrologic data shows that younger volcanogenic terrains tend to have higher primary permeability than older terrains. Decrease in primary permeability with age is attributable to weathering and hydrothermal alteration of volcanogenic deposits to pore-filling clays and deposition of secondary deposits (e.g., zeolites). Spring density as a function of geology and precipitation can be used to infer groundwater flow path length within the upper aquifers. Beneath the upper aquifers, we postulate that, due to accelerated hydrothermal alteration at temperatures ~>30 °C, primary permeability at depths of geothermal interest will be limited, and that secondary permeability is a more viable target for hydrothermal fluid withdrawal. Because open fractures resulting from tensile stresses will affect all geologic layers, regions with a significant amount of groundwater flow through shallow, structurally controlled secondary permeability may overlay zones of deep secondary permeability. Regardless of whether the shallow permeability is connected with the deep permeability, shallow groundwater flow can mask the presence of deep hydrothermal flow, resulting in blind geothermal systems. Ideally, hydraulic connectivity between shallow and deep secondary permeability is limited, so that shallow groundwater does not cool potential geothermal reservoirs.

  • USGS Source: Publications Warehouse (indexId: 70191365)