Drilling approved for geothermal project


The Pagosa Area Geothermal Water and Power Authority met early yesterday morning, and while the meeting itself lasted less than 10 minutes, the decision made marked a monumental milestone for a project decades in the making.

According to a statement from Pagosa Verde released shortly after yesterday’s meeting, “Drilling of six thermal gradient wells for the Pagosa Waters Geothermal Project is anticipated to begin in late October or early November after an extensive permitting and environmental process.  Various governmental agencies including the Department of Energy, Colorado Division of Water Resources, and Fish and Wildlife Services have been involved.”

At yesterday’s meeting, board member Steve Wadley made the motion “to approve resolution 2014-2, authorizing the execution of three drilling service agreements with DOSECC Exploration Services, LLC, in a total amount not to exceed $943,918.”

The motion was approved unanimously and will allow for up to six wells to be drilled.

Earlier, during the brief discussion leading up to the vote, Pagosa Verde Vice President of Operations Kirsten Skeehan explained why they were asking for authorization to drill three wells instead of two, and why they were asking for that much money. Both were based on a recommendation from Ken Charles of the Department of Local Affairs, which is contributing matching funds to the project.

Archuleta County Administrator Bentley Henderson added that he had just had a similar conversation with Charles the day before. Charles had expressed concerns about the speed of DOLA’s approval process. If Pagosa Verde didn’t request enough money to begin with, it might slow down the project.

“This thing has to move as carefully as we can make it move,” Wadley said, “but also as speedily as we can make it move. We are up against timelines. We’ve got a DOE grant and we need to move very carefully and make sure we spend the public’s money wisely, but we also have to move quickly. ... We need to keep this project online because, at the end of the day, we are trying to create jobs for this community.”

When board member David Schanzenbaker pointed out the contract in front of them called for paying the drilling company a daily rate, and asked how much they could expect to get done in one day, Skeehan explained that it will depend on a number of variables, including how often they take core samples while they drill, what kind of material they have to drill through, and what the weather is like while they work.

“We are hoping to bring the price way down,” Skeehan assured the board. “This is our worst-case price.”

Skeehan’s goal is to have the work done for around $700,000. She then explained how long each well should take to drill, and said that if the weather cooperates, all the wells should be done within eight weeks.

Once the resolution passed, Jerry Smith, owner of Pagosa Verde, asked for a chance to speak. “All I want to say is Kristen has managed, through good relationships and hard work over the last year, to get the DOE, DOLA and most importantly DOSECC to work together with us on this. This is very unusual for a driller to mobilize and work with somebody the way we are asking them to work. That’s based on their feeling about Kristen’s integrity and the work she has done to build relationships.”

Pagosa Verde’s press release goes on to describe the work itself. “The wells will be drilled on properties located south of town. All parcels have minimal residential exposure.”

While the plan is to have crews working around the clock for about eight weeks, the expectation is that noise disturbances will remain at a minimum due to the isolation of the work area.

“This initial phase of the drilling process is to determine the change in heat over a specified vertical distance,” the release continues. “Test wells will be drilled from a depth of 500 feet to 2000 feet. … To protect the aquifers, well casing will be placed appropriately.  The wells will gather core and cuttings to help better understand the geology of the area.”

Earlier testing by the Colorado School of Mines — both chemical analysis of the water and geological surveys of the ground — indicated the aquifer where Pagosa Waters is conducting its test drilling is separate from the aquifer that supplies the downtown area with water for the spas and the town’s heating system.

“After wells are drilled and have come to equilibrium,” the press release concludes, “temperature gradient monitoring begins, which will measure the change of temperature as depth increases. This process will help determine the change in heat over a specified distance beneath the ground. Testing for fluid or pressure will not be conducted at this phase of the drilling. However, down hole testing will be conducted by Colorado School of Mines and Dr. Eric Klingel of Geonomic Advisors.”

Once these temperature gradient wells are completed and analyzed, Pagosa Verde should be able to determine the optimum spot for drilling a much deeper well for flow testing. Once they have a flow-tested well, they can begin working on a production well.