2021 US DOE Geothermal Collegiate Challenge

Project maintained by NicholasFry Hosted on GitHub Pages — Theme by mattgraham

A Perspective on Oil Well Conversion for Geothermal District Heating in Mandaree, North Dakota

This site is part of the spring 2021 U.S. Department of Energy Geothermal Collegiate Competition by Team Geothermal Vision. Our team consists of graduate students from the University of North Dakota and Reykjavík University, Iceland.

We chose Mandaree, North Dakota as the site for our geothermal direct use development project. Mandaree is a community on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.


The town is rural with approximately 280 useable structures. To make geothermal direct use work for the sparsely populated community, the source of heat should be as inexpensive as possible. The goal is to deliver hot fluids by pipeline to each structure at a price below that of propane. This heat network of pipes is more commonly known as district heating (DH). Students investigate what it takes to recomplete oil wells, what geologic formations are of interest, how to maximize production of geothermal fluids, the energetics of the surface system, the economic impacts, where the investment dollars come from, and how this meets the desires of the people of Mandaree.

What is geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy is a natural resource from the heat produced inside the earth. This energy commonly rises to the surface through water, often pumped for production projects.

What are the benefits of utilizing geothermal energy?

Why is Mandaree a suitable candidate community for developing a geothermal project?

Mandaree is located near the center of the Williston Basin and Nesson anticline. The heat that contributes to the well-developed oil and gas resource in the region can also be put to use, generating electricity or taken directly by consumers to heat buildings, melt show on roads, and heat greenhouses.

What can geothermal energy do for Mandaree?

Recognizing a history of injustice and inequality to prepare for an inclusive energy transition

“We will sign this contract with a heavy heart … With a few scratches of the pen, we will sell the best part of our reservation. Right now, the future doesn’t look too good to us.

The above quote was made by chairman George Gillette in 1948 regarding the forced sale of 154,000 acres of MHA reservation land under the threat of confiscation. The land sold was prime river bottom, where most families lived - the center of the tribal economy. The land sold, including nearly all the reservation’s farmable land, now lies at the bottom of Lake Sakakawea. Lake Sakakawea, one of the nation’s largest reservoirs, came with the construction of the Garrison Dam along the Missouri River. Residents were forced to relocate and form new towns on higher ground, Mandaree is one of the communities established following this expulsion. This event highlights the lack of control indigenous groups have historically had over their affairs. The flooding of the river bottom has had a lasting impact on the social and economic development of the region and has contributed to the high rates of poverty.

This project will support the community in exercising their rights as a sovereign nation and offer more control in the development of the community. If the community develops this project, they would have greater control over where their energy comes from and the impact they leave on the environment. Jobs will from both the construction and operation phase of this project will allow for growth in the local economy. In addition to meeting the basic heating needs of the community the direct use network was designed to provide enough excess energy for the development of geothermal supported greenhouse with the possibility of other industrial applications. This project has the potential to provide the community more control over their own environment.

As the push toward renewable energy development continues many communities have made great strides in expanding renewable energy capacity. Low-income communities and communities of color have generally not made many gains in developing renewable energy projects. There are several factors that contribute to this inequity in renewable energy, including a lack of technical skills within these communities and low levels of home ownership. This project would provide an entire community access to a dependable renewable energy source, which is a step toward creating a more equitable energy landscape.

The Garrison dam has produced a tremendous amount of electricity at the expense of the wellbeing of the MHA Nation. The tribe was left out of ownership and given no stake in this engineering feat that destroyed their way of life. The ownership and operation of a geothermal district heating network that benefits community members in a way they can see everyday will ensure the community feels included in the national shift toward sustainable energy development.

Awareness This work was done in accordance with Executive Action (EA) 21-14
Technical reports from this project are made available directly to MHA Nation.

Examples of Geothermal District Heating

Boise, Idaho
Philip, South Dakota
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Budapest, Hungary
Paris, France
Reykjavik, Iceland

Explainer article

The Earth itself could provide carbon-free heat for buildings - By David Roberts

Examples of Commercial Greenhouses on Geothermal Heat

Nova Scotia, Canada
Saskatchewan, Canada
British Columbia, Canada

Additional Resources

GeoDH - A multi-institution effort cofunded by Intelligent Energy Europe.
GeoVision: Harnessing the Heat Beneath Our Feet - A multi-institution study sponsored by the US Department of Energy.
GeoRisk - A commercial readiness index for geothermal projects.