Geothermal development, a natural extension of oil and gas development activities, is attracting both new petroleum engineering graduates and established petroleum engineers in increasing numbers. This paper details the challenge awaiting engineers as they work to solve first-time problems and improve technology for future activities. The geothermal industry has tremendous potential for growth, and will make a significant contribution to worldwide energy supplies.


The geothermal industry in the United States is a young industry. The first geothermal power plant, a small 12-megawatt unit, began operations at The Geysers Project in 1960, using a turbine rescued from the junk yard. It took 11 years for The Geysers electrical production to climb past the 100 MN level. By 1975, however, The Geysers field had become the world's largest supplier of geothermal energy to generate electricity with 522 MW of installed generating capacity.

This success encouraged more companies to enter the industry, and, as the price of energy rose sharply, so did lease bonus prices and the number of drilling rigs active on geothermal prospects. The rapid growth of geothermal activity has created a strong demand for talented engineers and, particularly, petroleum engineers since their education particularly, petroleum engineers since their education and training are ideally suited to geothermal development. But petroleum engineers are also in demand both in the petroleum industry and also in many other industries that emphasize technical versatility.

The purpose of this paper is to meet the competition by describing the excitement, the challenge and the opportunities awaiting both young and experienced petroleum engineers in the expanding geothermal industry.


Not too many years ago it was difficult to recruit graduating engineers to work in the geothermal industry. Neither the students nor their professors knew much about geothermal and few offers professors knew much about geothermal and few offers of employment were accepted. That has all changed.

The geothermal industry has worked hard to acquaint engineering faculty members with geothermal, and summer employment as roustabouts and engineering assistants in the industry has introduced students to geothermal.

Graduates hired just a few years ago are now imparting their enthusiasm to younger students. The result is that the geothermal industry is now attracting higher quality graduates at starting salaries comparable with oil and gas.

Stanford University has been involved in geothermal studies since 1964, and has established an excellent research program in cooperation with the Department of Energy for, "Stimulation and Reservoir Engineering of Geothermal Resources". The major areas of research are: recovery of heat under different production mechanisms using a chimney model, steam-water relative permeability determination, geothermal well test pressure transient analysis, mathematical modeling, and the use of natural internal radon in reservoir engineering studies. More than 30 graduates of the Stanford program, representing more than eight countries, program, representing more than eight countries, are engaged in the development of geothermal energy.

A decade or so ago only a handful of experienced engineers were venturing into the geothermal industry. As growth continued and "alternate energy sources" became more popular, however, the geothermal image changed dramatically. The Geysers field began to host many distinguished visitors, including President Gerald Ford, Governor Jerry Brown, VIPS from Washington, D. C., and dignitaries from all over the world.

This "exposure" led to changes.

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