Updated July 2010
HISTORY: Geothermal fluids have been used for bathing for hundreds of years but it was not until 1904 that geothermal energy was used to produce electricity at Larderello, Italy. There were later developments at The Geysers (California), Wai Kei Kei, New Zealand, Mexico, Iceland, Indonesia and the Philippines. The facility in Larderello, Italy, is still in operation today.
What is a geothermal resource?
“Geothermal” means heat from the earth. This source of heat comes from the decay of radioactive elements in the crust, plus heat from the earth’s core. High concentrations of geothermal resources occur where hot molten rock has risen into the upper crust as plutons, or breached the surface, such as volcanoes.
How do we know that BC has geothermal resources?
Information about heat flows has come from oil and gas well data, mining bore holes, mapping of young volcanoes and the sampling of over 60 hot springs throughout B.C.
The majority of the world’s geothermal activity is located at major tectonic plate boundaries where volcanoes and earthquakes are concentrated. British Columbia is in a zone of active plate boundaries that rims the Pacific Ocean called the “Pacific Ring of Fire”.
Where are the high-temperature (above 80 degrees Celsius) geothermal resources in B.C.?
There are three belts of young volcanic rocks and all have known hot springs. These geothermal resources have potential to be used for electrical generation, depending on depth, temperature and flow. There may be other areas that have not been discovered.
Garibaldi Volcanic Belt
- 32 volcanic centres
- Mt. Garibaldi, Mt. Meager, Mt. Cayley
- youngest activity 2,500 years ago – vent on Mt. Meager
- number of hot springs, ranging up to 60 degrees Celsius
- East-west fracture zone along an extension of the northern boundary of the Juan de Fuca plate
- Knight’s Inlet
- much of this belt is in Parks or Protected Areas
- remote from transmission lines
Where are the low-to-medium-temperature (below 80 degree Celsius, but above ambient temperature) geothermal resources in B.C.?
In theory, they can be found anywhere, as the deeper a well goes, the higher the temperature of the fluids when found. These geothermal resources can be extracted for a broad range of direct-use applications (i.e. heat exchanges and/or heat pumps).
Development of geothermal resources below 80 degrees Celsius currently do not require tenure through the Geothermal Resources Act (Act) (see “What is geothermal tenure?” below.)
How do we confirm geothermal resources?
Exploration activity (including test holes) is conducted to determine the following factors:
- resource temperatures
- flow rates
- depth of the resource
- sufficient recharge to sustain long-term operation
- presence of water soluble minerals and salts
- proximity to transmission lines/market
What is geothermal tenure?
Crown geothermal tenure is defined through the Act and includes steam, water, vapour and all substances dissolved in the steam, water or vapour obtained from a well. Crown geothermal tenure does not include the use of water less than 80 degrees Celsius at the surface. When the Act was proclaimed in 1982, the Province declared all geothermal resources in B.C., as defined above, as owned by the Province. There are two types of geothermal tenure:
- a time-limited, exclusive right to a specific area, with set terms and conditions regarding exploration requirements within the permit’s boundary
- are for one year and may be renewed up to seven times
- issued only after a permittee drills a geothermal well within a permit area and submits a satisfactory development plan for the location
- issued for a 20-year term and may be renewed
While permits and leases provide an exclusive right to the resource, all exploration or development work, such as well drilling, requires an additional approval for each proposed activity.
What is the process of issuing a geothermal tenure?
Tenure is issued through a sealed bid public competition, companies requesting tenure remain anonymous. A proponent requests that a certain parcel is made available for competition. Ministry staff work with proponent to determine the parcel does not overlap with other tenures, is of an appropriate size and conforms to the grid on Petroleum Titles On-line.
Before the parcel is made available for competition, a tenure review process is conducted including an inter-agency land referral through which First Nations, local governments and provincial agencies have the opportunity to identify interests and areas where access constraints may apply. The tenure review process ensures that potential bidders are aware of environmental and land-use values and allows them to plan their exploration activities with care.
Prior to the disposition, a public notice is required to be published in the B.C. Gazette, local newspapers and the Ministry’s web site. The notice outlines all the terms of the disposition and specific tenure terms and caveats. The successful bidder’s name is released shortly after the sale has concluded.
Notice will be given to interested parties through our website when new requests are being accepted.
How are geothermal activities or development regulated?
Each activity, such as geophysical surveying or the drilling of a well, must receive an additional approval for each activity being requested. These approvals are issued only after a land referral has been completed for applications which have any ground disturbance activities. The approval includes regulatory conditions and requirements to address land use, First Nations, environmental and public concerns raised from the referral. If a viable geothermal resource is identified, the company must apply to the Ministry for project approval. The project development plan is subject to another review process which may be subject to a full Environmental Assessment prior to proceeding.
From an environmental perspective, what are the advantages and impacts associated with geothermal development?
- provides clean and safe energy using little land
- is renewable and sustainable
- generates continuous and reliable power
- conserves fossil fuels and contributes to diversity in energy sources
- “closed loop” geothermal systems produce no emissions or waste, as all water is re-injected back into the ground to be reheated
- although electricity generation plants have a small foot print, all season access will be required to the plant and wellsites.
- power lines will need to be built connecting the plant to the power grid
What are the possible economic benefits?
Geothermal is one of the most reliable renewable energy sources. Diversification of local energy sources and significant environmental cost savings are the two key economic benefits. Depending on the depth, temperature and flow, geothermal resources can have a range of applications:
- high-temperature can be used for electricity generation from steam and very hot water
- medium-temperature resources can be used for waste water treatment, aquatic centres, space heating, cooling systems (reverse cycle)
- low-temperature resources can be used for heat pump systems (fluid circulated through pipes in the ground and then passed through a heat exchanger to extract the energy for building heating and cooling).
What are the benefits to remote Communities and First Nations?
Geothermal energy can be used for remote community heat and electricity, reducing the dependence on diesel generation that is currently used. Opportunities may be available to communities to participate in geothermal developments in partnerships or as developers.
What type of auction system is used for the disposition of tenure?
The auction is a public auction that will be advertised/posted in the BC Gazette. It is a sealed bid process and bids will be based on value of work or on cash value. The Geothermal Resources Administrative Regulation outlines a minimum amount of work required on an annual basis. Bids are assessed on cash value. The right to reject any or all bids is reserved.
Who can I contact to discuss geothermal development in British Columbia?
Email inquiries can be sent to GeothermalTitles@gov.bc.ca.
Will the Geothermal Resources Act and its regulations be changing as part of the policy review?
There are no short term plans to make substantive changes to the Act or its regulations. Some minor amendments are planned that will provide the BC Oil and Gas Commission with regulatory authority.