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Research team could study geothermal resource

In about two weeks, the town of Pagosa Springs should know if it will host as many as 60 graduate students and faculty from the Colorado School of Mines in mid-May, working to do a geological survey of the area’s geothermal aquifer.

Several Colorado School of Mines faculty and administrators met with various local officials Tuesday morning to present plans for that research, as well as to discuss what the research team would need to consider Pagosa Springs as a viable location for its work.

Along with town officials, members of the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP), Pagosa Geothermal Advocates (PGA), geothermal stakeholders, the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation, the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners and interested local residents spoke with Colorado School of Mines team leaders hoping to convince them that, not only is there sufficient reason to conduct research, but that the area would provide the team with more than enough hospitality to provide almost every comfort.

“We’ve been a bit perplexed about the scope of our geothermal resources,” said Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem, “Have we tapped it to its limits or is it, as some people have suggested, much larger than we’ve previously suspected?

“This is very timely,” Mitchem added, “and you would be welcomed with open arms.”

Gerry Huttrer, president of Geothermal Management, Inc. and lead on research soon to be underway regarding the hydrologic characteristics of the aquifer, stated that the team’s findings would not only supplement the data his team is hopes to generate, but added that, “This research would normally come at a great expense and this is a great opportunity to get this done for far less than what you would normally be paying.”

Dr. Terry Young (head of the Geophysics department), Dr. Michael Batzle and Dr. André Revil (both professors of geophysics) described the research that their School of Mines team might conduct in Pagosa.

Although faculty and students would be researching numerous characteristics of the aquifer, that research would be the result of two primary studies: deep seismic profiles made of a portion of the aquifer and passive, “geoelectrical methods” of data collection — “including self-potential, electrical resistivity, and induced polarization” — that Revin describes on his website.

As far as deep seismic profiling, Young said that, “The technique is very similar to medical technology, such as an MRI or a CAT scan.”

What Young means is that significantly large sound waves are directed beneath the Earth’s surface, allowing a computer to translate the received echoes as shapes and depths (much in the way that an MRI — Magnetic Resonance Imaging — provides three dimensional images of a patient).

Revin’s research, on the other hand, measures electrical signals associated with the movement of water in porous, fractured materials to locate the movement and characteristics of geothermal water.

With dozens of graduate students in tow, working with Mines faculty, the team would mobilize in specific areas throughout Pagosa Country, attempting to map portions of the aquifer for the first time ever.

Although Batzle indicated that it would be about two weeks before the team decided if it would choose Pagosa Springs next year for the research projects, all three professors seemed to suggest the area would be a good fit for their work and would most likely opt to conduct research here.

“My only concern is, do we come here in 2012 or 2013?” Young asked.

To those ends, various local attendees wanted to assure Batzle, Revin and Young that logistical details would be handled with no undue enthusiasm.

“In the past,” Young said, “the biggest time constraint has been securing the land permits and permission from landowners.”

County commissioner (and GGP chairman) Michael Whiting assured the team that, should they choose Pagosa Springs, landowners would be contacted and that it would be in their best interest to give researchers access for the work.

“That would be a good role for the GGP and the stakeholders group (PGA) — better than the town or county,” Whiting said regarding outreach to landowners.

Huttrer suggested that, “If the school moves forward with this and comes up with a game plan, it might help to have at least one or two large community meetings to explain what will be done and why.”

Dawn Umpleby, department assistant for the Mines’ Geophysics staff and in charge of logistics for the team, noted that room and board opportunities, as well as entertainment, would figure prominently in the team’s decision.

Local attendees assured Umpleby and the team that the people of Pagosa Springs would be more than happy to show faculty and students the utmost in local hospitality.

Indeed, several attendees suggested that, should the team decide on a May 2012 visit, it would be an almost communitywide effort to fete the group, including providing meals (such as a “barbecue night” or “Mexican night”), discount passes for soaking, whitewater rafting trips and other amenities.

The team also indicated that students and faculty would require facilities to set up electrical equipment and computers necessary for interpreting data acquired from field studies, charging batteries and other maintenance requirements. As well, a meeting place would be needed for lectures and other classroom activities.

Mitchem assured the team that the community center or other facilities would be placed at their disposal to achieve those ends.

At the end, team members said they would like to hold a community meeting to present findings and discuss possible future studies to be conducted in the area, as well as to acquaint local residents with team members and students participating in the research.

In fact, as the meeting ended, it appeared that, while the work would be highly technical and focused on highly specialized fields of research, community involvement would be necessary to pull everything together.

Having stated that the residents of Pagosa Country had exhibited, “A cultural shift over the past few years towards renewable energy,” Whiting added, “There’s no data that won’t be good for Pagosa Springs.

“All of these things feed into changing the philosophy of scarcity into a philosophy of abundance.”

jim@pagosasun.com

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