Search for geothermal energy could lead Yukon researchers a kilometre underground

An attempt to measure geothermal energy potential could soon have researchers in Yukon drilling a hole one kilometre deep near the Takhini Hot Springs.

The idea was discussed Friday at a conference called the Future of Arctic Entrepreneurship in Whitehorse.

"The objective is to go deep enough to measure the heat that's being radiated by the planet," said Maurice Colpron, head of Bedrock geology at the Yukon Geological Survey.

"The first (test well) would actually be a little shallower, around 500 metres and that would be sometime this summer. Our plan would be to follow up with a second well that could be as deep as a kilometre. Hopefully that could happen in fall, or perhaps next winter."

A one-kilometre hole would be equivalent to the vertical length of a 333-storey building. If you dropped a marble from the top, it might take as many as 14 full seconds for it to reach the bottom. 

The idea would still need to be approved by the Ta'an Kwäch'än Council.

36 potential sites

Colpron says the hole would be no bigger than a telephone pole in circumference. He estimated a single test hole could cost more than $300,000. 

The geological survey is now looking at 36 potential sites for the project. Colpron said there is already a commitment of federal science funding through Strategic Investments in Northern Economic Development.

Once a hole is drilled, instruments would be put in place to measure and record heat.

Geothermic energy also depends on flowing water. One common technique is for water to be raised to the surface via a pump, where it then boils a glycol-based fluid, whose steam is used to power a turbine. 

The Takhini Hot Springs have so far been used for recreational purposes. However, there has been increasing research into geothermal power in Yukon in recent years.

Potential in Kaska territory 

Conference delegates also heard a presentation Friday about geothermic energy potential in southern Yukon.

John Ebell works with a research group called Barkley Project Group, which has been been working with the Kaska Dena Council to assess the potential for geothermic energy, working with test wells.

"There is water down there that's hotter than the water in your home's hot water tank," he told the audience.

The group has plans for a 300-metre deep test well near the community of Ross River.