Sedimentary Geothermal Resources in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Texas

Henry Johnston, Amanda Kolker, Greg Rhodes, Nicole Taverna

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The objectives of this project were to (1) perform a literature review of sedimentary geothermal resources, (2) identify data sources and develop data-collection methodologies that characterize selected resources, (3) screen sedimentary basins and formations for sedimentary geothermal potential, and (4) evaluate the technical feasibility of one or more selected locations. Numerous publications have characterized geothermal resources within sedimentary basins. A literature search reviewed publications describing resources located in Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. The most attractive resources have high temperature gradients, low drilling costs, and reservoir permeabilities greater than 10 millidarcies (mD). Prospects in Colorado, Nevada, Texas, and Utah exhibit attractive characteristics and were chosen for further analysis. Sedimentary resources in Nevada and Utah are most attractive, followed by tested resources in Texas and untested resources in Colorado. The identified resources in Wyoming and Louisiana had lower geothermal gradients and were not evaluated. Reservoir modeling and techno-economic analysis were performed at Marys River Basin–North in Nevada. Geothermal energy production at this location is expected to have a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) ranging between 10 and 20 cents/kWh. Additional work may result in lower LCOE estimates at this location and at other attractive prospects in these three regions. The Great Basin carbonate and alluvial aquifer system of eastern Nevada and western Utah includes a lower carbonate aquifer unit, which has the potential for hosting both conduction- and convection-dominated geothermal systems. Mapping has identified lateral thickness variability expressed as a roughly 120–150-km-wide central corridor, which hosts the thickest and most continuous formations and extends from near Las Vegas north to the Idaho border. Purchase and analysis of privately held legacy seismic data could potentially compensate for the lack of sufficient data documenting measured depth to the lower carbonate aquifer unit. Multiple orogenies, extension episodes, and intrusive events have deformed and displaced the target formations of the lower carbonate aquifer unit. This structural complexity and potential for dipping reservoirs emphasizes the need for detailed geological, geophysical, and reservoir modeling. Heat flow within three Colorado sedimentary basins reviewed as part of this study was calculated in targeted studies by the Colorado Geologic Survey and Colorado School of Mines. These calculations are based on bottom-hole temperature data sets with significant limitations and some variability but produce values consistently higher than the global continental average of 65 mW/m2 for all three basins. Heat flow in the Raton Basin is the highest; however, permeability measurements from specific sedimentary formations with high heat flow have not been obtained. Promising formations for sedimentary geothermal systems were found in all three regions studied—Nevada-Utah, Colorado, and Texas. The next steps for developing sedimentary geothermal resources vary due to differences in available data and resource uncertainties. Additional scopes of work are recommended for identified basins in these three regions.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages41
StatePublished - 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5500-76513


  • conceptual models
  • geothermal energy
  • sedimentary basins
  • temperature gradient


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