Saskatoon-based DEEP Earth Energy Production Corp. has launched a massive geothermal production project in southeastern Saskatchewan which will supply enough power for approximately 20,000 households.
Recently, the company announced the temperature and flow rates from the geothermal reservoir in the Deadwood Formation are sufficient to support multiple geothermal power facilities. So this month, DEEP will start drilling the deepest horizontal well in Saskatchewan’s history, allowing for the installation of a large diameter submersible pump.
This initial horizontal well will be the initial step in constructing the first geothermal power facility in Canada. Early power generation technology is being sourced for immediate self-generation, supplying power for drilling, testing and construction activities for the Williston Basin’s first 20 MegaWatt (MW) geothermal power plant, the company added.
The project is located near Estevan, which is the hometown of Kirsten Marcia, the founder, president and CEO of DEEP Earth.
Exchanger captures heat from brine
“We are producing extremely hot brine. So, 120-degree Celsius fluid from 3.5 kilometres down. It’s a sedimentary basin. We take that fluid, we pump it to surface and then we use a heat exchanger to harvest the heat and that’s the last we use of brine. That brine then goes back into the ground for re-heating at some distance away from the production,” she said.
“Then we’ve got that heat and we introduce that heat to working fluid; in our case a butane which can flash from liquid phase to a vapour phase at fairly low temperatures. That vaporization is what turns a turbine to make power.
“DEEP’s vision to build 100MW of geothermal power and greenhouse development could be a new $1 billion industry for southeast Saskatchewan.”
The company said the Williston Basin’s first 20MW geothermal power plant would offset approximately 114,000 metric tonnes of CO2/year, equal to removing 32,000 cars off the road annually.
“This is a first for Canada – and it’s the beginning of something big. Geothermal energy can create lots of jobs in Western Canada and across the country – all while helping us get to net zero,” said Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Natural Resources Canada, in a statement.
DEEP Earth owner has geology background
The company was founded in 2010.
Marcia’s background is as an exploration geologist. Leading up to this, she worked her entire career exploring for the usual type of resources such as gold and base metals. In Saskatchewan, she worked on a huge diamond deposit.
She has also worked on oil, gas and coal exploration.
One day while chatting with another geologist over a beer discussing challenges in the industry, he brought up a different kind of resource under the earth that’s hot and could produce a constant supply of clean energy.
“I didn’t know what he was talking about at first, but obviously he was talking about geothermal. It came at such an interesting time in my life, where I had some experience behind me, I had some skill sets and it was a great opportunity to redeploy those experiences onto a clean energy project ,” she said. “That’s how it all came to be.”
After some preliminary work, her company undertook a formal viability study in 2014.
Gov’t agencies fund viability study
“We raised some money locally with people who knew our histories and background to see if this was potentially viable and it looked very good,” Marcia explained. “We then completed a pre-feasibility study. That was a $2-million study that was funded 100 per cent by SaskPower and Natural Resources Canada. And that said ‘yup go for it, this would be wonderful’.
“We felt really good going into fundraising for this project, but the junior resource sector dried up at that point. So trying to find investors for resource projects was almost impossible. We were challenged, we were underfunded . . . until the end of 2018 when we secured the investment to proceed with drilling, which coincided with some major federal funding.”
Marcia said there are no two geothermal projects in the world exactly alike. They’re all different depending on the volumes of fluid that can be moved and the temperature of the resource.
For example, in the Munich area of Germany, she said, there are many projects very similar to what DEEP Earth is doing with similar depth, similar temperatures and similar outputs.
“The difference in Germany though, is they actually get paid more for heat than for power. So most of the generation in Germany is actually for direct heating,” said Marcia. “There’s lots of projects in the United States. The United States of course is the largest producer of geothermal power.”
Construction to take about two years
Marcia said funding has come from private equity investment, mostly in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and federal funding of $25.6 million from Natural Resources Canada.
She said a feasibility study will be completed by the end of March. Then DEEP Earth hopes to begin full construction, which will take about two years.
“With the first 20MW facility we’re working on, the numbers we’re looking at are probably 435,000 man hours during the construction phase. That’s drilling, pipelines, constructing the power facility,” she said. “We’re going to be adding on the opportunity for greenhouses and maybe even supplementing our power with solar.
“So huge job creation during construction, but then post-construction the real secret will be in that add-on value through greenhouses and other direct-use opportunities.”
She hopes this will be a major step in Saskatchewan’s transition from fossil fuels.
“One of the exciting things about this project is how it plays so nicely into clean energy transition for Saskatchewan,” she said. “Saskatchewan has been very fossil fuel heavy in our energy mix and so part of this energy transition is that we’re using local, world-class oilfield drilling expertise as a first step in connecting this kind of significant energy transition to clean.”