USGS explores hot rocks for geothermal potential on Oregon Indian Reservation

USGS potential fields team members

In a remote corner of northern Oregon lies a complex fault zone: a nexus of faults concentrating regional stress in the area. The system is not yet well understood, geologically speaking, and in the last 100 years several earthquakes recorded immediately to the north, in southern Washington state, let locals know that the area is seismically active. While earthquake risk is a concern, it also indicates that the area is prime geothermal country, with the potential for local communities to harness this renewable energy resource for energy independence.

This area of northern Oregon is home to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR). In recent years, the CTUIR observed how their neighbors to the southwest - The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation – explored the geothermal potential under their reservation. So, the CTUIR partnered with the USGS and industry partner, AltaRock Energy, to apply for funding from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and Energy Trust of Oregon. The trio were granted the funds to assess the geothermal resources under the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The investigation has included potential field (gravity and aeromagnetic) surveys, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), magnetotellurics (MT), and paleomagnetics. The field measurement was used to constrain 2D potential field models in Oasis montaj, provided as part of Geosoft’s Education Program, and a 2D potential field model was created using the GM-SYS Modelling extension.

The surveys and fieldwork completed in 2017 are a significant first step toward assessing the geothermal potential lying beneath the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Further exploration and drilling temperature gradient holes will help determine if a suitable reservoir exists, is commercially viable, and accessible to help make the reservation energy-independent.

Read the full story on Earth Explorer, to learn more about the collaborative initiative.  

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