Nevada in more hot water: Geothermal industry gets boost with discoveries of ‘blind’ systems

University of Nevada, Reno scientists are successful with new exploration methods for renewable energy

Reno, Nev. - Geothermal power potential in Nevada is heating up - with two successful discoveries in the Great Basin by the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology using a previously untried method for finding unknown, hidden geothermal resources.

Both discovered systems are blind - meaning there are no surface indications of hot water - and there had been no exploration previously in one of these areas and only minor previous exploration in the other. Geologists at the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology at the University of Nevada, Reno, used a number of other surface and subsurface clues in their methodology developed as part of their Department of Energy funded Play Fairway project that has been underway since 2014.

"The exploration, the mapping, the analysis, all led us to the top two spots - of perhaps hundreds of potential sites - to drill geothermal wells," Jim Faulds, director of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, said. "Success at two sites provides an initial validation of the methodology we developed, and opens up new possibilities for power generation sites by the industry."

The third and final phase of the project involved temperature-gradient drilling generally to approximately 500 foot depths. Data from all three phases of the project has been analyzed and will help guide industry to the most favorable sites to generate renewable energy in the large study area, which covers about one-third of the state of Nevada. Measurements from the new geothermal wells have been completed, the wells capped and waiting for industry to step in. Now that these blind geothermal systems have been discovered, it's up to the geothermal industry to conduct additional drilling for possible development of a geothermal power plant.

"It's gratifying to demonstrate positive results of applied science here at the Bureau," Faulds said. "After several years of research, mapping and analysis, we've identified many promising areas that have great potential for geothermal power. Funds only allowed for test drilling at two sites, but there are dozens of other promising sites that I'm excited about across the region. The two sites, one in southeastern Gabbs Valley and the other in at northern Granite Springs Valley, are now ready for industry to decide on their economic viability."

McGinniss Hills, currently the largest geothermal system in Nevada northeast of Austin, produces about 140 megawatts of electrical power and is also a hidden geothermal system with no surface hot springs or steam vents. The newly discovered system in southeastern Gabbs Valley system is probably not as large as that at McGinniss Hills, but Faulds thinks that it is likely that many other systems as large as McGinniss are yet to be discovered.

"There is potential in the Great Basin for much greater amounts of geothermal energy than the current 720 MW of capacity from about 25 power plants already in place," Faulds said. "The geothermal wealth of this region can be attributed to its active faulting and thinning of the crust, which allows hot fluids to rise more quickly to levels accessible through drilling. The Play Fairway project provides a catalyst for accelerating geothermal development in the region.

"The industry is now looking at Gabbs. It's not our job to develop the resource, but rather to assess geothermal resources and identify the systems, so industry can take over and develop energy for Nevada and neighboring states."

Much of the Gabbs Valley project was carried out by Jason Craig for his master's thesis. This project was a great collaborative effort, Faulds said, between several NBMG faculty and graduate students at the University, as well as several other organizations, such as the U.S. Geological Survey.

This project was funded by a Department of Energy grant through their Geothermal Technologies Office. Collaborations with the geothermal industry, including Ormat, Nevada Inc. and U.S. Geothermal were also beneficial to this study.

The mission of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology is to provide the citizens of Nevada with geologic information on geologic hazards and natural resources both to protect the public and facilitate, diversify and enhance Nevada's economic future. It is a statewide public service unit that applies its expertise to the entire state as a division of the University of Nevada, Reno and resides in the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering in the College of Science. Since its inception in 1929, it has served as the State Geologic Survey of Nevada and a Bureau of information and analysis for geologic data throughout the state.

- @unevadareno -

Photo Cutline: Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, a public service unit in the College of Science at the University of Nevada, Reno, has had two successful discoveries of geothermal systems in the Great Basin using a previously untried method for finding unknown, hidden geothermal resources.

The University of Nevada, Reno is a public research university committed to the promise of a future powered by knowledge. Founded in 1874 as Nevada's land-grant university, the University serves nearly 22,000 students. The University is a comprehensive doctoral university, classified as an R1 institution with very high research activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. More than $800 million has been invested campuswide in advanced laboratories, residence halls and facilities since 2009. It is home to the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and Wolf Pack Athletics, as well as statewide outreach programs including University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, Small Business Development Center and Nevada Seismological Laboratory. The University is part of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Through a commitment to student success, world-improving research and outreach benefiting Nevada's communities and businesses, the University has impact across the state and around the world. For more information, visit

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