DEEP drilled its first well in November, 2018. Now, after over four years of development, the project is going ahead. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

SASKATOON – After several years of drilling, testing, delineating and redesigning, DEEP Earth Energy Production Corp. is going ahead with construction of its first geothermal power project. It’s a project that promises emissions-free baseload power generation, using heat from the centre of the earth.

The company announced on Feb. 6 that a strategy for the engineering, construction, and commissioning of DEEP’s first geothermal project in southeast Saskatchewan has been finalized. Engineering and procurement activities have commenced. Field construction is planned for Q3, 2023.

“Geothermal power generation has the capacity to provide renewable, reliable baseload energy (24/7), and the DEEP project in Saskatchewan is anticipated to be the first Canadian 100 per cent naturally sourced geothermal power facility,” the company said in a release.

DEEP said it has concluded that the reservoir characteristics could support the construction of multiple geothermal expansion facilities in southeast Saskatchewan over several years.

“DEEP is grateful for the ongoing support from Natural Resources Canada, SaskPower and private partners as DEEP is now firmly positioned to convert its geothermal resource into renewable energy.” The release noted.

“We are a go,” said DEEP CEO, Kirsten Marcia, by phone on Feb. 6. “There is a market that is hungry for truly sustainable, renewable power projects. The technology is proven, the leases are in place and initial government funding is confirmed.”

Kirsten Marcia, DEEP president and CEO. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

Project design

DEEP is positioned to move forward with the construction phase of a 25 megawatt power facility in southeast Saskatchewan, which includes a 5 MW power purchase agreement with SaskPower. The facility is planned to be constructed in 2 phases – 5 megawatts followed by an additional 20 megawatts at the same location. Production and injection wells are planned to be drilled to a depth of approximately 3.5 kilometres and horizontally for an additional 3 kilometres.

Marcia explained on that the footprint of the wells underground will be 6 kilometres east to west, and eventually 10 kilometres north to south once the later phases of the project are complete.

The surface facility will be a little north of where the principal test wells have been drilled. Both Phase 1 and 2 surface facilities will be on the same location, with underground, insulated pipelines connecting the wells to the facility. Those wells will be drilled from three to five surface locations.

While there is a possibility they might use one of the test wells, its well design varies significantly from the wells going forward, including substantially different well completion.

She anticipates drilling to commence in September. Long-lead items, like specialized casing, tubing, and heat recovery surface hardware, will likely be ordered in March. Licensing and permitting for all well and surface facilities are anticipated to commence in Q1-2023.

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“We’ll have our construction completed by mid-2024,” Marcia said. “We’ve done all the lengthy work – drilling and testing the reservoir. That’s behind us. That’s what sucked up all the time. Now that we’re going to construction, this just drilling and simple Organic Rankine Cycle power generation. That’s the beauty of geothermal. Now that we understand how to deploy the projects and construction them, they’re very quick.”

One drilling rig is expected to be contracted to punch those wells.

Panther Drilling Rig 2 drilled this well, DEEP Border-6, in late August, then moved a few kilometres to the northeast to drill Prairie Lithium’s first targeted lithium well. Border-6 was a step-out well, to ensure the geology extended across a broader area. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

These wells will be a lot wider than a typical oil well, with 9 inch well bores to the bottom, and 7 inch, specially lined tubing to combat corrosion. She explained that form of tubing is used in the oilsands, and is designed to handle high heat and abrasive material. It’s expected to last up to 30 years.

DEEP’s test wells set multiple records for the deepest wells drilled in Saskatchewan. They are at the deepest portion of the Williston Basin that falls within Saskatchewan, south of Torquay, approximately 3 kilometres north of the U.S. border. With geothermal energy, generally speaking the deeper you go, the warmer the energy potential due to heat from the centre of the earth.  

That chunk of core is the deepest core ever taken in Saskatchewan, drilled by DEEP in 2018.

Corrosion mitigation

The hot water is coming from the Deadwood, the deepest sedimentary formation in Saskatchewan before you hit the granitic Precambrian basement. The water from that deep saline aquifer is 120 C, and ten times saltier than the ocean.

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Dealing with corrosion issues has been one of the key points in the testing, modelling and design, according to Marcia. Originally the idea was to use corrosion inhibitor, but specialized lined tubing, and an open hole well design, was chosen instead.

She does not anticipate issues with salt precipitating out of the brine as the temperature is dropped.

Ribcage

The planned layout of the wells will resemble a ribcage. Lateral spacing of the wells is expected to be 500 metres.

DEEP said its “ribcage” layout and geothermal well field design “are leading edge and may be a globally transformative application of modern oil and gas drilling and completions techniques, which will be applied for the first time on a renewable energy project.”

A similar pattern has been used for oil development just a few kilometres to the west, where Crescent Point Energy Corp. has numerous wells in its Flat Lake play. DEEP noted wells with equivalent depth, lateral length and step out are routinely drilled in the hydrocarbon resource plays of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin and DEEP will be leveraging this local knowledge and drilling capability. The well design also incorporates learnings from DEEP’s five vertical and one horizontal test wells drilled from 2018 – 2021.

The subsurface geological reservoir model predicts that the well spacing for the first 25 MW field development will utilize only 10 per cent of DEEP’s entire subsurface lease that covers 39,568 hectares (97,775 acres). This large subsurface lease is anticipated to support the build-out of multiple power facilities greater than 200 MW. Twenty-five megawatts is roughly equivalent to the power required to supply 25,000 households.

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Organic Rankine Cycle

The geothermal resource is designed to generate power utilizing Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) technology, which is fast becoming the most deployed technology for new geothermal installations.

ORC power production is a well-established technology. It has been used in Saskatchewan for power production since 2008. Four of the Alliance Pipeline’s compressor stations in the province use heat recovery and ORC to produce 5 megawatts of power at each facility. Compressing stations at Kerrobert, Loreburn, Estlin and Alameda are all equipped in this manner.

Marcia pointed out that the Meadow Lake Tribal Council’s biomass power generation facility is a more recent example of the same technology being used in Saskatchewan.

Moving lots of water

Another major issue has been dealing with parasitic power loss – in other words, reducing the amount of power needed to pump the hot water up, and inject it back down, while still producing an economic amount of power.

Marcia said, “This is a huge water moving project. And so the well design and completions really impact basically the amount of drag you have when you’re moving the fluid. So we did an enormous amount of reservoir modeling; modeling of different scenarios, different depths of the electric submersible pumps, well spacing. The actual reservoir modeling has been an enormous amount of work because, of course, we need to ensure that these facilities are sustainable for 30 years.”

They will be injecting the water back into the same formation, to maintain formation pressure.

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DEEP has tested their brine for lithium, and found lower concentrations than lithium explorers in the region (as it is a different formation than the one they are exploring). Perhaps down the road, there may be an option to add on lithium extraction, but that would be a secondary consideration.

Similarly, secondary use of the available heat, such as greenhouses, are another possibility, but again, that’s for down the road. Right now, the focus is to get megawatts to the grid. Marcia said, “We’re just focused on the power now.”

Members of the Saskatchewan Party caucus toured DEEP’s Border-6 well in the summer of 2021. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Employment and seismic

Most of the employment will come during the drilling and construction phases. Once it’s up and running, there won’t be many people required to operate the facility.

Field work for a 56.2 km2 3D seismic program has commenced and projected to be completed in March. Data will be utilized for horizontal well trajectory planning on the eastern half of the first well array and for future expansion planning.

GeothermEx (SLB) has begun a final review of DEEP’s geothermal resource. DEEP noted GeothermEx’s due diligence has resulted in more than 8.5 GW of geothermal power and related investments exceeding USD $14 billion dollars.

Surface facility construction and drilling are planned to commence in Q4, 2023 with first power production estimated by summer 2024.

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In addition to geothermal power production and with proper regulatory approvals, the DEEP subsurface lease contains separate stratigraphic intervals that are anticipated to have the characteristics necessary for CO2 storage. DEEP is exploring strategic CO2 storage opportunities in efforts to develop a major multi-use CO2 storage field.

It’s been a long road

Marcia has personally been working on this project for 12 years. The first well was drilled in 2018, so it’s been a long road to get to this point. “It’s not been easy,” she said. “It’s been hard. It’s been a hard project.

“We’ve got our focus on developing our Saskatchewan geothermal field, which may scale up to, let’s call it 200 megawatts. But what’s really interesting here is that the deployment of horizontal wells to develop geothermal resources has never been done anywhere else in the world. And we believe we’ve cracked the code on these lower temperature resources. And that’s thanks to building off the shoulders of the oil and gas industry, which again, has never been done in geothermal. So, as we look to the future, there’s lots of runway, here, in Saskatchewan, of course, but I think where it gets really interesting is that this type of field design could be deployed in other sedimentary basins around the world that have been overlooked until now.”

 

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SaskPower provides a lot more detail for possible small modular reactor locations, with Rafferty and Lake Diefenbaker showing most promise

Lithium in SK, Part 12: Hub City Lithium shows promising results northeast of Weyburn