UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

New idea for New Town, N.D.: Geothermal energy

Community stakeholder event addresses city’s geothermal-energy potential

A team from the University of North Dakota College of Engineering & Mines visited New Town, N.D., in early November to introduce a geothermal energy project to the community.

The event in the Northern Lights Community Building was meant to raise awareness about geothermal district energy generation, as well as provide a forum for discussion among local leaders to consider renewable energy sources.

The idea of a combined heat and power geothermal system for the New Town area won a national award in 2021. A team from UND, in partnership with Reykjavik University, took first place in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Geothermal Collegiate Competition.

The student team researched the use of existing gas wells to generate geothermal energy for heat, food and jobs in Mandaree, N.D. – located south of New Town, across Lake Sakakawea.

Will Gosnold

Both the Mandaree and New Town initiatives came about through the work of graduate students in the Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Engineering, said Will Gosnold, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Geology and Geological Engineering and lead advisor to the student team. Faculty and graduate students in the College have been conducting geothermal energy research with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for the past two decades, he added.

“We’re currently working with the North Dakota Department of Commerce to establish a geothermal industry in North Dakota,” Gosnold said. “Raising the visibility of that effort through this community event, which emphasizes the potential for both Mandaree and New Town, is progress toward that goal.”

As oil and gas wells reach the end of their useful life, they can be repurposed to harvest geothermal heat from the earth to heat homes and create economic development opportunities, UND students proposed in 2021. Mandaree – located in the heart of the Williston Basin and Bakken Formation – was a prime location to test the idea.

The presentations in New Town were informative and well received by the community, Gosnold told the Grand Forks Herald.

“The students had both a morning and afternoon session, and there were 70 to 80 attendees at each one,” Gosnold said to the newspaper. “There were representatives from the Department of Energy, along with tribal representatives and leaders. The students told me that residents and faculty at the local community college are interested in moving forward with the development. The people of New Town now have a blueprint for how to proceed.”

Click the image to watch the team’s video proposal for the Geothermal Collegiate Competition.

According to the team’s video proposal for the competition, a system could draw hot water from aquifers deep below the surface to provide heat. The water would later be re-injected into the aquifer to prevent reservoir depletion. Temperatures in the aquifer below Mandaree, particularly, exceed 158 degrees Fahrenheit.

As for the opportunities possible in harnessing the renewable energy, the team proposed a greenhouse in Mandaree that could provide fruit and vegetables. Jobs would also be created around the maintenance of the system, which had a proposed 50-year lifespan.

And, according to Gosnold, this project developed for Mandaree has the potential to benefit hundreds of people, if not thousands, as the systems become known and duplicated.

“North Dakota has an enormous geothermal energy resource in the Williston Basin, and we are encouraged by this upcoming New Town event and by the interests and activities of others,” Gosnold remarked. “If such a resource were developed, all heating-and-cooling and most electrical power needs would come from an inexhaustible, geothermal resource.”