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Discovery and Analysis of a Blind Geothermal System in Southeastern Gabbs Valley, Western Nevada
AuthorCraig, Jason W.
AdvisorFaulds, James E.
Geological Sciences and Engineering
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This study assessed the potential for high-temperature (≥130°C) blind geothermal systems in southeastern Gabbs Valley by employing a geothermal play fairway analysis approach involving integration of geologic, geophysical, and geochemical datasets. Gabbs Valley is a complex, tectonically active basin within the Great Basin on the boundary between the transtensional central Walker Lane domain and extensional Basin and Range province. The termination of the Petrified Springs fault, a major dextral fault of the central Walker Lane, in an array of normal faults indicates that southeastern Gabbs Valley occupies a displacement transfer zone, which is a favorable structural setting for geothermal activity. The displacement transfer zone is a structurally complicated area with many faults of varying geometries, kinematics, and ages. A substantial northwest-trending gravity high within the south-central part of southeastern Gabbs Valley is produced from offsets along concealed northwest-striking dextral-normal faults that intersect strands of north-northeast-to east-northeast-striking normal faults. This area of tightly spaced faults and fault intersections is a particularly favorable structural setting within the broader-scale displacement transfer zone. Multiple lines of direct and indirect evidence suggest the presence of a relatively high-temperature (≥130°C) blind geothermal system in this area, including collocated intersecting gravity gradients, magnetic -low, low-resistivity, and 2-m temperature anomaly. Potentially related, water samples from agricultural wells ~7 km northwest of the 2-m anomaly yield geothermometers indicating subsurface fluid temperatures of 130-140°C. Six temperature gradient holes were drilled to target the extent of the shallow-temperature and geophysical anomalies to define the geothermal system in southeastern Gabbs Valley. Two wells contained high temperatures exceeding boiling with bottom-hole temperatures of 114.5°C and 124.9°C, respectively, and the remaining wells displayed elevated to background temperatures ranging from 79.2°C to 28.7°C. The observed temperature gradients for the two hottest drill holes necessitate drill-hole intercepts of convecting hydrothermal fluids. The 2-m survey is spatially and thermally consistent with the temperature-gradient holes and constrains the core of upflow at a shallow depth interval (<250m) to an area <0.5-1 km west-southwest of the hottest drill hole. The zone of inferred upwelling occupies the area corresponding to the center of the magnetic low.This project has several significant implications. The newly discovered blind geothermal system in southeastern Gabbs Valley may be capable of supporting a binary-type geothermal power plant. This detailed study provides an initial validation of the play fairway approach to geothermal exploration. It also demonstrates both the broad applicability of the play fairway exploration strategy and the large untapped potential for commercial-grade blind geothermal systems in many of the basins in the Great Basin region.