Geothermal Hydraulic Stimulation: Overview of Methods and Best Practices

Ian Warren

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper outlines important information related to the hydraulic stimulation of geothermal wells and considerations for regulators responsible for evaluating applications to conduct these operations. Hydraulic stimulation applied to geothermal wells is an evolving technology that is different from the hydraulic fracturing process widely used to complete unconventional oil and gas wells. Important differences relate to operating pressures, variations in rock and fracture processes, and characteristics and disposal of hydraulic fracture fluids. Hydraulic stimulation is not widely used in the geothermal industry; however, future development of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) will require hydraulic stimulation in order to enhance and create fracture permeability to allow wells to deliver sufficient heat and fluid to power plants. Gigawatts of EGS potential have been identified (U.S. Department of Energy 2019), so it is expected that the use of hydraulic stimulation of geothermal wells will be more common in the future. At present, there are no formal regulations guiding drilling programs or sundry notices that propose hydraulic stimulation of geothermal wells. On federal lands, important constraints and oversight are embedded in the process for obtaining Geothermal Drilling Permits outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (43 CFR Section 3262.11); in Geothermal Resource Order 2 (GRO 2) guidance for assessment and mitigation of impacts of geothermal operations as well as construction and testing of geothermal wells; and in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Induced Seismicity Instruction Memorandum (BLM 2018). Additionally, local knowledge from BLM field offices and expertise of BLM engineers, or that of state regulators for operations on private and state lands, will be applied to fully assess operator applications to conduct geothermal hydraulic stimulation activities. Significant research effort has been directed toward EGS, so geothermal hydraulic stimulation techniques, impacts, and results are evolving and becoming better understood, including adaptation of decades of oil and gas industry experience with hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs. Recent EGS activities in the United States provide details about hydraulic stimulation with respect to oversight, stimulation design, execution, and results. Based on experience to date, the important issues to address when hydraulically stimulating a geothermal well include the following: 1. Wellbore construction and integrity must be appropriate to protect groundwater and manage stimulation pressures. 2. Understanding of lithology, faults, fractures, and subsurface stress state is necessary to design stimulation plans and predict results. 3. Seismic monitoring allows for observation and mitigation of induced seismicity.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages23
StatePublished - 2022
Event2022 Geothermal Rising Conference: Using the Earth to Save the Earth (GRC 2022) - Reno, Nevada
Duration: 28 Aug 202231 Aug 2022


Conference2022 Geothermal Rising Conference: Using the Earth to Save the Earth (GRC 2022)
CityReno, Nevada

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5700-86439


  • geothermal
  • hydraulic stimulation
  • induced seismicity


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