Oil and gas advocates question geothermal’s economic viability

NEW ORLEANS, La. – In its latest endorsement of green energy, the United States Department of Energy awarded Louisiana State University $997,000 for a project to evaluate the feasibility of an advanced geothermal energy project.

The Energy Department’s Geothermal Technologies Program is releasing up to $70 million in new funding within the next three years to incentivize further development of geothermal energy in the U.S. The Obama administration’s goal of generating 80 percent of electricity from renewable resources by 2035 is heavily dependent on utilizing geothermal energy.

Specifically, the project will evaluate the technical and economic feasibility of technologies that circulate reservoir fluids to increase heat extraction.

In addition to LSU, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California received $4.99 million, GeoTek Energy LLC in Texas got $2.85 million, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory got $874,000.

The U.S. is currently the leading producer of geothermal energy, with 3086 megawatts generated per year. Currently, geothermal plants generate 12.5 percent the amount of energy produced in conventional coal fired plants.

Geothermal power plants require no fuel, and can therefore distance themselves from fuel cost fluctuations, but capital costs, such as drilling and exploration of deep resources, tend to be higher than conventional energy sources, like petroleum.

Matt Ross, communications director for the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, contends that the government moving forward with funding for unproven technologies is a testament to their inability to address the energy crisis.

“[The government] subsidizes one industry that’s not efficient, that hasn’t proven itself in the open market and that’s not sustainable without tax dollar support.” He continues, “We don’t need that because oil and gas is viable. There’s a rate of return on our business, and there’s a low cost for the energy we produce.”

Jackie Savitz, senior campaign director for Oceana, claims that making the transition to geothermal energy will reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which account for 82 percent of total U.S. man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

“While some methods of using geothermal energy can release carbon dioxide, the amount is significantly smaller per unit of energy created [as opposed to fossil fuels]. This means that geothermal is not perfect but it is measurably superior to coal and oil.  There are also other environmental downsides to geothermal but many of them can be managed.”

Ross agrees that if wind, solar and geothermal energy was economically feasible, it could contribute to our nation’s recovery, but, “at this time the economics just don’t make sense.”


Robert Ross is a researcher and social media strategist with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contacted at rross@pelicanpolicy.org, and you can follow him on twitter.