Geothermal: Energy Right Under Our Feet

SMU geothermal expert David Blackwell talks about the potential for producing energy using heat from the earth.

By Paul Strand
CBN News Sr. Washington Correspondent

YELLOWSTONE - The world's first national park – Yellowstone – is a place of stunning beauty and awesome animals.

But some of its most interesting sites are those holes into the earth reeking of sulfer where great geysers suddenly burst into the air.

That's why the first white men to stumble upon this Yellowstone region thought they'd found the place where hell meets earth. Actually it's just where geothermal power bubbles up from the earth.

 Park geologist Hank Heasler stated it's the largest concentration of geysers and such anywhere. He said, "We have over 10,000 geothermal features in the park."

Responsible for all that energy is America's biggest, hottest magma chamber right below Yellowstone.

One of the country's foremost geothermal authorities, David Blackwell of Southern Methodist University's Geothermal Lab, explained, "It's actually so big, it shows up on the maps we make of the United States as this big bullseye of heat."

This magma chamber generates so much energy, it could power tens of millions of American homes. Blackwell said, "It's potentially equivalent to something on the order of 10 to a hundred nuclear power plants."

Federal law forbids drilling to ever use Yellowstone's geothermal power. IF drilling were allowed, it could wipe out the beautiful geyser fields.

That's what Heasler said has happened in some locations like in Iceland where the country gets much of its power from geothermal. But he warned in some future extreme energy crunch, the U.S.could change its mind about preserving Yellowstone's geysers. He said Americans, the true owners of the park, might say, ".the power we can get from here is more important than the beauty and the wilderness aspect of Yellowstone."

But SMU's Blackwell said new technologies can prevent that day from ever coming because they can turn every region of the U.S. into geothermal energy producers.

Most of the country isn't blessed like Yellowstone or the area in California known as "The Geysers" where magma chambers are right below the surface. Blackwell said of The Geysers, "You drill a well there and just pure steam comes pouring out of the ground and you don't have to do anything except run it through a turbine."

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