Crude oil prices give geothermal a break

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Record low crude oil prices could become a major opportunity for the geothermal power industry.
Over the past few decades, researchers have looked at various uses of geothermal energy, but drilling costs make it cost prohibitive for commercial use.

But with oil prices around $30 per barrel, state-of-the-art rigs have been idled and drilling prices have fallen dramatically. That’s where scientist- turned-businessman Bruce Outright sees an opportunity.

“It’s time to make this commercial,” said Cutright, who spent several years working as a researcher for the University of Texas Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology and founded Thermal Energy Partners LLC in 2010.

The Austin-based company is now looking to take advantage of lower drilling costs to build a string of geothermal power plants across Texas and the globe.

Cutright estimates that geological formations in the Texas Gulf Coast and South Texas region can generate up to 2,500 megawatts of carbon-free andemissions-free power. “Texas is a gold mine of geothermal, but unfortunately, because of cheap natural gas, we as Texans haven’t used geothermal energy,” Cutright said.

Taking advantage of low crude oil prices and idled rigs, Thermal Energy Partners teamed with Corpus Christi-based Orion Drilling for its future projects.

Orion Drilling Marketing Executive Brett Schellenberg said the company has a fleet of 17 drilling rigs but that only about half of them are in use.

Schellenberg said the company’s rigs can easily be adapted for use in geothermal projects.

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