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Presented at the Ground Water Protection Council Annual Meeting, 2007, San Diego, CA

The Geysers Geothermal Field, an Injection Success Story

M. Ali Khan
Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, 50 D Street # 300, Santa Rosa, CA 95404 (USA)
Keywords: The Geysers, Geothermal, Production, Injection, Superheat, Decline Curve, Data Reduction, Visualization

For many years, Lake County and the City of Santa Rosa (Sonoma County) had been looking for avenues to dispose their treated effluent. Since The Geysers was in need of water and the county and city needed an effluent disposal outlet, a unique public-private collaboration began. In 1997, Lake County constructed a 42 km long pipeline to transport 1.01 million kg of secondary treated effluent per month to The Geysers for injection, which resulted in additional steam. This prompted Santa Rosa and other municipalities in Sonoma County to construct a similar pipeline. By the end of 2003, the Santa Rosa pipeline was completed, resulting in an additional 1.25 million kg of tertiary treated effluent to The Geysers every month. The current mass replacement from both pipelines and other sources is about 85% of production. This has resulted in sustained steam production, a decrease in non-condensable gases, improved electric generation efficiency, and lower air emissions. The additional electricity generated as a result of these two pipelines is about 155 MWe per year. The Geysers has become the largest heat mining operation in the world. By December 2008, The Geysers had produced 2,394 billion kg of steam, and injected 954 billion kg of fluids, resulting in a net mass replacement of 39.9%. Locally this success story is called “Flush to Flash.”

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The Geysers Geothermal field, which is located about 100 km north of San Francisco, California, started production in 1960 with a 12 MWe power plant. The field development picked up at a rapid pace from 1979 through 1989. Despite the drilling of new wells and an increase in installed capacity, the total steam production peaked at 112 billion kg in 1987, whereas the average steam production per well peaked in 1972 at 55,439 kg/well/hr (Figure 1).

From 1960 through 1969, the condensate collected from the power plant cooling towers was discharged into Big Sulphur Creek. Thereafter discharge limits set by the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) resulted in injection being the most viable disposal method. From 1976 through 1980 the mass replacement rate (i.e., the fluid re-injection rate) was about 25%, which is approximately the cooling tower recovery at The Geysers. By 1980, the philosophy of injection started shifting from “disposal” to “heat mining.” Prior-established water rights limit the ability of the operators at The Geysers to extract water from the streams and creeks in this region, but from 1980 through 1993 the amount of fresh water extraction that was allowed was able to increase the mass replacement rate to about 28%. As the steam production and reservoir pressures continued to decline, the need to increase mass replacement became increasingly more acute. However, there was no more water available at The Geysers; all the cooling tower recoveries and the waters available from the streams, surface water sources were already being re-injected into the reservoir.

Figure 1: Steam Production (Source: Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources).

At the time The Geysers steam production and reservoir pressures were declining rapidly, the communities of Lake County, City of Santa Rosa, and other municipalities were trying to find solutions for the disposal of their treated sewage waters. From the early 1990s, Lake County started looking into piping its treated waters into The Geysers. Studies showed that injecting wastewater could achieve two critical objectives at same time: first, as a continuous supply of steamfield recharge water that could help mitigate The Geysers productivity decline; and second, as an effluent disposal method that would be environmentally superior to conventional surface water discharge methods currently in use. Slowly they built consensus on the project and a partnership was developed between public and private sectors.

After two years of construction, the pipeline was formally dedicated on October 16, 1997. The total construction cost was $45 million, including $37 million for the pipeline and $8 million in wastewater system improvements. The 41-to-51-cm diameter pipeline is 42 km long. It started transporting about 883,000 kg of secondary treated effluent per month to The Geysers for injection. The injection project success resulted in a second phase, completed in 2003, which added more sanitation districts. With this extension, the system currently uses eight pump stations to move approximately 1.01 million kg of treated effluent through 85 km of pipeline with a total elevation gain of 600 meters to the injection delivery station in The Geysers. In ten years (August 1997 - August 2007) the Lake County pipeline has brought in 106.6 billion kg of water, generating about 3.5 million MWh additional electricity (Figure 2).

During the 1970s and 1980s, Santa Rosa and its neighboring communities experienced rapid growth. This growth, combined with increasingly stringent regulations on wastewater and unusual weather conditions, made its wastewater system vulnerable to failure. Responding to some spills and planned discharges, the RWQCB fined the City and issued a cease-and-desist order. In addition, it required the City to develop a long-term project that would prevent such releases in the future. After studying many possible solutions, in 1997, the City of Santa Rosa prepared and adopted The Geysers injection alternative. Like the Lake County pipeline, a partnership was developed between public and private sectors. Construction began in 2001 and was complete by September 2003. The 65 km pipeline, 76-to-122-cm in diameter, and three pump stations lift the water 850 m from the valley floor near Healdsburg to the million gallon termination tank. Calpine provides the 8 MWe of electrical power needed to operate the pumps. SRGRP facilities north of the termination tank are owned and operated by Calpine and include 22 km of pipelines (diameter 20-to-76 cm), one pump station, and two tanks. Using an additional one megawatt of power, SRGRP water is distributed around the field, primarily to areas not previously supplied with fresh or SEGEP water.

From November 2003 to August 2007, SRGRP has been delivering 1.25 million kg per month of tertiary treated effluent from Santa Rosa and other municipalities in Sonoma County to The Geysers for injection. In August 2007, the City of Santa Rosa approved an increase in the amount of wastewater pumped to The Geysers by 35%. This will make Santa Rosa one of the few cities in California that recycle 95% of its wastewater.

The SRGRP injection is expected to generate an additional 85 MWe. By extending the life of the steamfield, the SRGRP will help assure that the environmental benefits of geothermal power generation will continue into the future.

Figure 2: Effect of SEGEP and SGRP Injection.

Figure 3: Effect of SEGEP Injection on SE Geysers (Courtesy of Calpine and NCPA).

The current mass replacement from both pipelines and other sources varies from year to year between 80% and 90% of production, whereas on a monthly basis the mass replacement can be as high as 120%. This has resulted in significant additional steam production, decreases in the concentration of non-condensable gases in the steam being produced, improved electric generation efficiency, and lower air emissions. The Geysers has become the largest heat mining operation in the world. By the end of December 2008, The Geysers had produced 2,394 billion kg of steam (Figure 3), and injected 954 billion kg of fluids, currently resulting in a lifetime net mass replacement of 39.9%. Even with the anticipated increases in future annual mass replacement rates, that are expected to be more than 100% of production, the cumulative mass replacement will seemingly never be able to approach 100%.

Figure 4: Cumulative Production and Injection (Source: Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources).

The combined additional mass replacement as a result of the two pipelines has had a positive effect on steam production and reservoir pressure maintenance. In Figure 4, monthly steam production is plotted against time. The red line denotes the actual production, the blue line is the exponential decline curve-fit. An attempt is made to provide some ballpark values using published data and some approximate decline curve estimations. As is the case with any decline curve method, the expected results may change, not only due to individual interpretation, but also if the reservoir parameters are changed. By using this method, the annual steam production decline rate decreased from 4.8% per year before the pipeline injection to less than 1%.

As noted, supplemental injection in The Geysers supports reservoir steam pressure, thus decreasing the rate of production decline. An additional benefit of supplemented Geysers injection has been the decrease of Non Condensable Gases (NCG) in produced-steam. Field-wide NCG concentrations have been increasing with the depletion of the steam and with the re-injection of produced-steam condensate. The injection of treated effluent, which contains very little dissolved NCG, is resulting in the formation of low NCG injection-derived steam that dilutes the NCG concentrations in the reservoir. Lower levels of NCG in produced-steam results in lower air emissions and more efficient steam-to-electric generation. For example, between 1986 and 2003, NCG concentrations in well DX85 increased by over a factor of five (Figure 5). Injection into DX19, which began in late 2003, has reduced DX85 NCG to a level not seen since 1990 (Beall, et al. , GRC, 2007).

Figure 5: DX85 NCG concentration versus time (Beall, et al. GRC, 2007, Updated Courtesy of Calpine).

A typical well (Figure 6) will have a cemented casing string up to the base of the cap rock, at approximately 4,000 feet. All casings in geothermal wells in California are requited to be continuously cemented from the casing shoe to the surface. From the base of the cap rock to the total depth of approximately 9,000 feet, a slotted liner may be hung to deliver the injection fluids to targeted parts of the reservoir. The initial reservoir pressure was 500 psi, while the current reservoir pressure is about 150 psi. At 4,000 feet, net hydrostatic pressure of the injection column will be about 1582 psi (1732-150). With this kind of pressure differential and very high fracture permeabilities, (hundreds of milli darcies) large amounts of injection fluids can be easily gravity fed into the reservoir. Currently, there are 75 injection wells in The Geysers, most of them converted from production wells. Two nearly horizontal injection wells have been drilled in The Geysers. The horizontal wells were intended to spread injection fluids over a wider areal extent, and thereby reduce the injection induced micro-seismicity. At this time, the result seems to be encouraging, but it maybe too early to make a definite conclusion.

Figure 6: A typical injection well schematic.

With the geothermal production and injection activity at The Geysers, induced seismicity became a concern. The Geysers field is continuously monitored by three seismic arrays operated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and Calpine. Two strong motion detectors have also been installed in the southeastern part of The Geysers. These data may be downloaded, almost in real time, from the USGS website. In most oil and gas operations, the induced seismicity is related to the production and stress related to the significant pressure drawdown. However, at The Geysers the induced seismicity, for the most part, is related to injection, which results in the stresses produced by rock being rapidly cooled. Seismically, The Geysers is very active and about one thousand seismic events of magnitude 1.5 and greater are recorded annually. Only a few of these are large enough to be felt, with the largest magnitude being 4.5. The number of MEQs has increased with the additional SEGEP and SRGRP injection. However, the numbers of the larger earthquakes (M>=3.0) seem to be about the same from year to year.

The Geysers in 47 years of production and injection, with 460 production and 75 injection wells, is providing 25% of all California’s renewable electrical energy. The treated effluent injection from the two pipelines amounts to about two-thirds of the total injection. This results in about 155 MWe of additional electricity, extending the life of the field and providing a better alternate for disposing the local communities’ wastewater. Micro-seismicity is increasing with the increased injection, but, larger seismic events seem to be unrelated to injection.

Many colleagues helped with this project in one form or another. In particular we would like to thank, K. Goyal, A. Pingol, Melinda Wright of Calpine; Steve Enedy and Bill Smith of NCPA, E. Johnson, and L. Tabilio of DOGGR.

[1] BEALL, J.J., M.C. ADAMS, and J.L. SMITH, “Geysers Reservoir Dry Out and Partial Restoration Evidenced by Twenty-Five Years of Tracer Tests.” Geothermal Resources Council Transaction, v. 25, 2001.
[2] BEALL, J.J., M.C. WRIGHT, and J.B. HULEN, “Pre- and Post-Development Influences on Fieldwide Geysers NCG Concentrations”, Geothermal Resources Council Transaction, v. 31, 2007.
[3] GOYAL, K.P., and A.S. PINGOL, “Geysers Performance Update Through 2006”, Geothermal Resources Council Transaction, v. 31, 2007.
[4] KHAN, M. A., “A New Computer Program for Geothermal Decline Curve Analyses.” Geothermal Resources Council Transaction, v. 22, 1998.
[5] KHAN, M. A., ESTABROOK R., “New Data Reduction Tools and their Application to The Geysers Geothermal Field”, Proceedings World Geothermal Congress 2005, Antalya, Turkey, 2005.
[6] SANYAL, S.K., “Forty Years of Production History at The Geysers Geothermal Field, California—the Lessons Learned.” Geothermal Resources Council Transaction, v. 24 ,2000.
[7] STARK, M. A., et al., “Santa Rosa—Geysers Recharge Project, Geysers Geothermal Field, California, USA.” Proceedings of the World Geothermal Congress, Antalya, Turkey, 2005.

M. Ali Khan
M. Ali Khan is a Geothermal District Engineer for the State of California, Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources. In this capacity, he oversees geothermal drilling, production and injection operations and promotes public health and safety through public meetings and dissemination of technical data. Khan earned his Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Mining Geological Engineering and his Master of Science (MS) degree in Geological Engineering from Orta Dogu Teknik Üniversitesi, Ankara, Turkey. For 30 years Khan has worked in upstream oil, gas, and geothermal projects in Turkey, Pakistan, Germany, and the United States. Early in his career, Khan worked for the Elektrik Isleri Etüt Idaresi, Ankara. Following his MS, he worked for four years with Wintershall AG as an exploration geologist in Pakistan (offshore) and Barnstorf, Germany. He then became the Director of Operations for the Conoco Inc in the US. For the last 16 years he has been working with The Geysers Geothermal Field in northern California. Khan received the American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ Gulf Coast Section’s “Best Paper” and “Levorson” awards for “New Ideas in Exploration of Oil and Gas,” as well as the California Department of Conservation’s “Superior Accomplishment Award".

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