The Earth generates and stores heat known as geothermal energy. Sometimes, this renewable energy resource can be utilized in a number of ways to provide heat and electricity. When successfully implemented, geothermal energy produces low emissions, and can often operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Below the Earth’s crust are layers of hot molten rock and magma. Heat is continually produced in these layers, mainly from the decay of naturally radioactive materials such as uranium and potassium. In some locations fractures in the Earth’s crust allow heated fluids to rise closer to the Earth’s surface than normal, forming an area of elevated ground temperatures. These areas can be tapped to harness geothermal energy. In some cases the heated water can appear at the surface through geyser’s and hot springs. Geothermal energy is utilized in three primary categories, electrical generation, direct use, and tourism.
Tourism is the primary use of geothermal energy in Wyoming. Geothermal features draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to Wyoming each year, allowing them to enjoy thermal springs in the state, primarily in Yellowstone National Park and Hot Springs State Park located in Thermopolis. Direct use of geothermal energy is also harnessed as a means to heat buildings, water, and roadways in some areas of the state.
The WSGS has a variety of publications related to thermal springs and geothermal data in Wyoming. Digital reports and maps are listing below. Other Wyoming related geothermal data, including bottom hole temperatures are available via the National Geothermal Data System (NGDS).
Examples in Wyoming—The historic use of geothermal resources in Wyoming is limited to "direct use" applications. Many native peoples used the warm springs for medicinal and spiritual reasons. The springs subsequently provided similar resources to settlers during the great westward expansion of the 1800s. Although Wyoming’s geothermal resources are still primarily used for recreation and tourism a number of direct use and electrical generation applications have been implemented in recent years.
The Jackson National Fish Hatchery uses geothermal water in their brood stock hatchery outside of Jackson Hole. Natural springs at the hatchery feed the brood stock ponds with geothermal waters. The water used at the hatchery is about 80˚F (26˚C) and flows at 100 gallons per minute (gpm). According to the Geo-heat Center, annual geothermal energy produced by the springs is about 4.9 gigawatt hours per year (GWh/yr).
A greenhouse uses warm water for heat near Lander. The well produces 98˚F (37˚C) water at 50 gpm. The heat from the geothermal water is also used to grow plants. Annually 0.6 GWh are produced from the system.
Near Thermopolis, Wyoming a residence is heated by a warm-water geothermal system. The water used to heat the residence is 124˚F (51˚C) and flows at 100 gpm. The annual geothermal energy output of the system is 0.2 GWh/yr.
The U.S. Department of Energy is currently operating a geothermal testing facility at the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center (RMOTC) near Teapot Dome in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. The agency announced plans to sell the property (Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 3), but will continue testing at the facility until July 2014.
Geothermal Tourism—This is the main use of geothermal resources in Wyoming. Of course Yellowstone National Park is the most well known and spectacular, however, there are a number of other publicly accessible hot springs throughout the state. These hot springs are created by high geothermal gradients close to the Earth’s surface. For hundreds of year, these hot springs have been used for recreation and relaxation. A few of the more notable public hot springs in Wyoming are detailed below.
Geothermal Uses in Wyoming
- Saratoga Hot Springs—The hot springs in Saratoga have been in use for hundreds of years. They were first “discovered” in June of 1911 and at one time the water was bottled and sold as “Radioactive Mineral Water.” However, Native Americans used the area was prior to settlers in the mid-1880s. There are five springs associated with the Saratoga Hot Springs, two of which are used to form the Saratoga Hot Springs City Park The waters of the Saratoga Hot Springs are considered to originate from Mesozoic rocks and are structurally dominated in the pathway to the surface. The largest spring in the system flows at 120 gpm and is 119˚F (48˚C).
- Hot Springs State Park—In addition to Yellowstone National Park, Hot Springs State Park is another area with popular hot springs in Wyoming. The state park was created in 1937 to protect the mineral hot springs. Located in Thermopolis the park contains two commercial pools, a state bathhouse, and numerous geothermal deposits of travertine. There are several springs that make up Hot Springs State Park and numerous private springs and wells associated with the same geothermal system north of the park. Big Spring is the largest of the park’s springs flowing at 2908 gpm with a temperature of 132˚F (56˚C). Big Spring sits atop a large impressive terrace system with steps down to the Bighorn River.
- Kendall Warm Springs—
Located in the upper Green River Valley, Kendall Warm Springs are a small geothermal system, which flow at about 3600 gpm with water temperatures at 85.1˚F (29.5˚C). The springs formed a terrace system which isolated the Kendall Warm Springs Dace, a species of fish, off from the Green River. The dace evolved into their own species and the springs are now federally protected in order to preserve the habitat of the Dace.
- Yellowstone National Park—Yellowstone National Park is made up of 3,472 square miles and 100 hot spring groups. It was designated America’s first national park in 1872, and continues to be one of the most diverse and visited national parks to this day. A total of 318 springs have temperatures over 194˚F (90˚C) and steam vents that reach 280˚F (138˚C). Nearly 100 springs produce superheated water. The entire Yellowstone geothermal system discharges 49,000 gpm. The Yellowstone geothermal system receives its energy from magma near the surface of the Yellowstone Caldera. The caldera is 28 miles (45 km) wide (East to West) and 53 miles (85km) long. Areas of the caldera have been active in the recent geologic past, rhyolitic rocks erupted 60,000 years ago and underlay all the geyser basins in the park.
Seth Wittke (307) 766-2286 Ext. 244