Denver, CO

Transitional Energy, United Power team up to make electricity from oil, gas wells

Matt Whittaker

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A pump jack in Weld County.CL.Baker/Flickr

By Matt Whittaker / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Geothermal developer Transitional Energy and electric coop United Power aim to transform oil and natural gas wells in the northern Front Range into sites that produce electricity from heat stored in the ground.

The move marks another step in Colorado's fossil fuel industry development as oil and gas companies increasingly look to lower their emissions even as the burning of their products to make electricity and power vehicles continues to warm the planet.

"Reuse of existing wells and infrastructure is a capital-efficient way to use the heat beneath our feet," Denver-based Transitional Energy said.

Brighton-based United Power, which serves 300,000 members along the Front Range north and east of Denver and two mountain canyons, has oil and gas customers in Colorado's Denver-Julesburg basin that use traditional electric service to power drilling rigs and other well pad equipment.

The goal of the pilot program announced by the two companies last week is to capture geothermal energy at thousands of operational and abandoned wellbores in the basin and convert it into electricity that the oil and gas operators can use to offset their energy purchases and reduce their greenhouse gas footprints.

“Utilizing clean, economical geothermal energy to provide local power that can be dispatched when needed is a critical component of our growing energy portfolio," said Dean Hubbuck, United Power’s chief energy resources officer. "Geothermal energy represents a huge untapped renewable resource that can reduce our reliance on power from other traditional sources.”

Colorado fossil fuel companies aim to decrease emissions

If the pilot project goes as planned, the oil and gas companies that reduce their emissions using geothermally generated electricity will be part of a trend of fossil fuel producers in Colorado taking steps to curb climate change.

Denver-based natural gas producer Antero Resources has eliminated routine flaring at its wells in West Virginia and Ohio and set a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from its own operations by 2025.

Meanwhile, SM Energy, a Denver-based company that operates oil and gas wells in Texas, has said it would stop all routine flaring and reduce non-routine flaring to 1% or less natural gas production by 2023.

By 2030, SM said it would reduce by half the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions from company sources and those that result from its energy-related purchases, based on 2019 levels. It also said it would maintain its “already very low” methane emissions at the 2020 level or better.

State regulators last week held a two-day virtual public comment hearing on a plan requiring natural gas utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a time when high energy costs are top of mind for many residents amid a global natural gas shortage.

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Matt Whittaker writes about natural resources industries, including oil and gas, mining, renewable energy, agriculture and cannabis. He's been based in the Denver metro area since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @mattswhittaker.

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