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About Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy is heat that originates deep below the Earth's surface that can be used for heating or generating clean electricity. Geothermal heat sources include heat created by or derived from:

  • the Earth's core
  • natural radioactive decay
  • friction between rock formations
  • solar absorption

Geothermal resources provide the province with a potential source of alternative energy to help meet the power and heating demands of Albertans. There are many possible uses for geothermal energy in Alberta:

  • Electrical power generation
  • Aquaculture/Aquafarming
  • Greenhouses
  • Industrial processing
Geothermal Activity in Alberta

There are three main geological regions in Alberta (from west to east): the Rocky Mountains, the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, and the Canadian Shield. Deep geothermal potential is higher on average in the western regions of Alberta.

Geothermal potential increases with depth below the surface (see figure).

Geothermal Regime in Western Canada

Types of Geothermal Development in Alberta

Deep geothermal resources are in rock formations at depths below fresh (nonsaline) groundwater. The temperature of these deep geothermal resources can exceed 120°C and can be used to generate heat or electricity. Companies looking to develop deep geothermal resources can produce heat or power for use in existing oil and gas facilities or as commodity for commercial or industrial end users.

Shallow geothermal systems, otherwise known as ground source heat exchange or geo-exchange systems, are close to the surface and can be used with ground source heat pumps for space heating and cooling. The temperature of shallow geothermal resources tends to be less than 40°C.

The potential for deep geothermal development varies across the province based on reservoir temperature, depth, and other characteristics.

Geothermal Geo Exchange

Open- and Closed-Loop Systems

The open- and closed-loop systems are the two main configurations used for deep geothermal development (see figure below). These systems can be co-located with existing oil and gas operations.

Open-loop systems involve circulating water from a porous rock formation through wells drilled into the formation. Water will collect in the wellbore as it seeps through the naturally porous rock. Hydraulic fracturing can be used to free water trapped within the formation to flow more easily to the wellbore. Hot water collected in the wellbore is circulated to a geothermal facility on the surface to extract the heat from the water. The now relatively cooler water is injected back into the same formation through other wells where it will be naturally reheated.

Closed-loop systems do not use formation water but rather other fluids as the medium to carry heat from a formation. In a closed-loop system, single wells or a pair of horizontal wells are interconnected, and fluids are circulated through the network. Cool fluids are pumped down the wellbore and are heated by the surrounding formation. The hot fluids are then circulated to a geothermal facility on the surface to extract the heat from the fluid. The relatively cooler fluid is recirculated back through the network in a continuous loop. In a closed-loop system, the fluids are entirely contained within the system.

Geothermal Closed Loop

Regulating Geothermal

In October 2020, the Government of Alberta introduced Bill 36: Geothermal Resource Development Act to establish legislative authority for land use and liability management related to geothermal resource development. The act received royal assent on December 9, 2020. The geothermal policy enables the government to establish the requirements for land use and liability management and protections for landowners and mineral rights owners.

Co-production wells that produce both geothermal energy and oil and gas will continue to be regulated under the Oil and Gas Conservation Act. However, facilities and pipelines used in the production of geothermal energy will be regulated by the Geothermal Resource Development Act

The Geothermal Resource Development Act builds on Alberta's strong record of responsible resource development by creating a dedicated regulatory framework to encourage investment, help diversify the economy, and create jobs. The act establishes the following regulatory responsibilities:

  • The AER is the primary regulator for deep geothermal energy developments occurring below the base of groundwater protection, which is an estimate of the depth where groundwater becomes saline.
  • Alberta Environment and Parks is the primary regulator for shallow geothermal energy developments occurring above the base of groundwater protection.
  • Alberta Energy is responsible for overall policy development, tenure, and royalties.

As of December 8, 2021, the AER now oversees deep geothermal resource development. The AER is working to publish final requirements in the spring of 2022.

While the AER is not able to accept geothermal applications until the rules and associated regulatory instruments are finalized, we will work with industry stakeholders to answer any questions about application processing, timelines, or procedures.

Compliance and Enforcement

We will monitor geothermal developments using our liability management programs and processes to support responsible development. We will assess and identify the risk associated with each licensee's proposed development and their ability to meet their regulatory and liability obligations. More information will be available in 2022.

Geothermal development is included in our compliance assurance program.

Licensees must meet all regulatory requirements and ensure the protection of nonsaline water. Additional information can be found on our Water webpage.

Stakeholder Information

Questions about geothermal resource development, including application submission, licences, and transfers can be emailed to @email. Questions may also be directed to our inquiries line at 1-855-297-8311.