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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 14 Dec 2017

Research article | 14 Dec 2017

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of this manuscript was accepted for the journal Solid Earth (SE) and is expected to appear here in due course.

From oil field to geothermal reservoir: First assessment for geothermal utilization of two regionally extensive Devonian carbonate aquifers in Alberta, Canada

Leandra M. Weydt1, Claus-Dieter J. Heldmann1, Hans G. Machel2, and Ingo Sass1,3 Leandra M. Weydt et al.
  • 1Department of Geothermal Science and Technology, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Schnittspahnstraße 9, 64287 Darmstadt, Germany
  • 2Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E3, Canada
  • 3Darmstadt Graduate School of Excellence Energy Science and Engineering, Jovanka-Bontschits-Straße 2, 64287 Darmstadt, Germany

Abstract. The Canadian Province of Alberta has the highest per capita CO2-equivalent emission of any jurisdiction in the world, predominantly due to industrial burning of coal for the generation of electricity and the mining operations in the oil sands deposits. Alberta’s geothermal potential could reduce CO2-emission by substituting at least some fossil fuels with geothermal energy.

The Upper Devonian carbonate aquifer systems within the Alberta Basin are promising target formations for geothermal energy. To assess their geothermal reservoir potential, detailed knowledge of the thermo- and petrophysical rock properties is needed. An analogue study was conducted on two regionally extensive Devonian carbonate aquifers, the Southesk-Cairn Carbonate Complex and the Rimbey-Meadowbrook Reef Trend, to furnish a preliminary assessment of the potential for geothermal utilization. Samples taken from outcrops were used as analogue to equivalent formations in the reservoir and correlated with core samples of the reservoir. Analogue studies enable determination and correlation of facies related rock properties to identify sedimentary, diagenetic, and structural variations, allowing more reliable reservoir property prediction. Rock samples were taken from several outcrops of Upper Devonian carbonates in the Rocky Mountain Front Ranges as well as from four drill cores from the stratigraphically equivalent Leduc and three drill cores of the slightly younger Nisku Formation in the subsurface of the Alberta Basin. The samples were analyzed for several thermo- and petrophysical properties, i.e., thermal conductivity, thermal diffusivity and heat capacity, as well as density, porosity and permeability. Furthermore, open-file petrophysical core data retrieved from the AccuMap database were used for correlation.

The results from both carbonate complexes indicate good reservoir conditions regarding geothermal utilization with an average reservoir porosity of about 8%, average reservoir permeability between 10−12 and 10−14m2, and relatively high thermal conductivities ranging from 3 to 5Wm−1 K−1. The most promising target reservoirs for hydrothermal utilisation are the completely dolomitized reef sections. The measured rock properties of the Leduc Formation in the subsurface show no significant differences between the Rimbey-Meadowbrook reef trend and the Southesk-Cairn Carbonate Complex. Differences between the dolomitized reef sections of the examined Leduc and Nisku Formation are also minor to insignificant, whereas the deeper basinal facies of the Nisku Formation differs significantly.

In contrast, the outcrop analogue samples have lower porosity and permeability, likely caused by low-grade metamorphism and deformation during the Laramide Orogeny that formed the Rocky Mountains. As such, the outcrop analogues are no valid proxies for the buried reservoirs in the Alberta Basin.

Taken together, all available data suggests that dolomitization enhanced the geothermal properties, but depositional patterns and other diagenetic events, e.g. fracturing, also played an important role. As for the development of the Devonian aquifers in the Alberta basin as geothermal reservoirs, repurposing abandoned oil and gas wells has the potential to produce geothermal energy cost efficiently, providing new business strategies.

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Short summary
This study focuses on the assessment of the geothermal potential of two extensive Upper Devonian aquifer systems within the Alberta Basin (Canada). Our work provides a first database on geothermal rock properties in combination with detailed facies analysis (outcrop and core samples) enabling identification of preferred zones in the reservoir and thus allowing a more reliable reservoir prediction. This approach forms the base for upcoming reservoir studies with focus on 3D-modelling.
This study focuses on the assessment of the geothermal potential of two extensive Upper Devonian...