An isotopic analysis of geothermal brine and calcite scaling from the Blue Mountain geothermal field, Winnemucca, Nevada
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Understanding, and controlling, the conditions under which calcite precipitates within geothermal energy production systems is a key step in maintaining production efficiency. In this study, I apply methods of bulk and clumped isotope thermometry to an operating geothermal energy facility in northern Nevada to see how those methods can better inform the facility owner, AltaRock Energy, Inc., about the occurrence of calcite scale in their power plant. I have taken water samples from five production wells, the combined generator effluent, shallow cold-water wells, monitoring wells, and surface water. I also collected calcite scale samples from within the production system. Water samples were analyzed for stable oxygen isotope composition (d18O). Calcite samples were analyzed for stable oxygen and carbon (d13C) composition, and clumped isotope composition (D47). With two exceptions, the water compositions are very similar, likely indicating common origin and a well-mixed hydrothermal system. The calcite samples are likewise similar to one another. Apparent temperatures calculated from d18O values of water and calcite are lower than those recorded for the system. Apparent temperatures calculated from D47 are several degrees higher than the recorded well temperatures. The lower temperatures from the bulk isotope data are consistent with temperatures that could be expected during a de-pressurization of the production system, which would cause boiling in the pipes, a reduction in system temperature, and rapid precipitation of calcite scale. However, the high apparent temperature indicated by the D47 data suggests that the calcite is depleted in clumped isotopes given the known temperature of the system, which is inconsistent with this hypothesis. This depletion could instead result from disequilibrium isotopic fractionation during the aforementioned boil events, which would make both the apparent d18O-based and D47-based temperatures unrepresentative of the actual water temperature. This research can help improve our understanding of how isotopic analyses can better inform us about the movement of water through geothermal systems of the past and how it now moves through modern systems. Increased understanding of water movement in these systems could potentially allow for more efficient utilization of geothermal energy as a renewable resource.