A New Plate Boundary in the Making? The Walker Lane

Blue Dot 159, by Dave Schlom and Matt Fidler, Sept. 20, 2019

Listen to this 53-minute audio interview with Jim Faulds.

“Dave investigates the idea that the boundary between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates may be in the process of “stepping” eastward from the San Andreas Fault to the so called “Walker Lane.” He visits with Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology tectonics expert Jim Faulds, who is one of the leading proponents of the new theory.

We take a virtual geologic field trip from the Gulf of California, up through the Eastern California Shear Zone (where the July 4-5 Ridgecrest earthquakes rocked the high desert) and up one of the most scenic highways in the world — Highway 395 east of the Sierra Nevada.

It’s been the setting of countless westerns and commercials and for good reason — the spectacular scenery due to the volcanic and tectonic forces unleashed over time in this part of eastern California and western Nevada. Will Reno be beachfront property? Probably, but you’ll have to wait a few million years to find out!”

Blue Dot: Each week Blue Dot takes you to curiosities across our universe. Featuring interviews with leading scientists, authors, filmmakers and journalists from around the world, Blue Dot examines our home from a planetary perspective. Whether it’s a discussion about our life-giving oceans, the imperiled climate systems, the depths of space, or how a rock guitar works, Blue Dot is an adventure of discovery.

Hosted by Dave Schlom, and co-produced by North State Public Radio, Blue Dot digs deep into conversations about earth and space. For the past 12 years, Schlom has adorned the airwaves with his warm, relaxed style. His extensive scientific and journalistic background and his gift for engaging natural and thought-inducing conversations make Blue Dot a program you don’t want to miss.



Biggest-Ever BLM Geothermal Lease Sale Reaps $638,000 in Nevada

By Abigail Sawyer, California Energy Markets; September 20, 2019; No. 1557

Abigail Sawyer interviewed Jim Faulds for this news story, and she and California Energy Markets graciously allowed us to print the text of this copyrighted article below.


California Energy Markets; September 20, 2019; No. 1557, page 16

Copyright © 2019, NewsData LLC. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited.

[SUMMARY, page 1]: “Recent research on geothermal potential in Nevada, improved technology, and increasing interest in carbon-free and renewable energy resources is driving geothermal interest in the state, experts say. Geothermal lease sales continue in the largest-ever offering of parcels on federal lands following a Sept. 17 auction that brought in nearly $638,000 in bids in the state. At [18], geothermal heating up in Nevada.”

[STORY, page 16]: “A federal Bureau of Land Management geothermal lease sale in Nevada on Sept. 17 attracted more than three times as many bidders as a similar auction held last year. The auction was the largest, by acreage, of any geothermal lease sale BLM has ever held, according to a news release.

The auction alone brought in nearly $638,000 from lease sales on 102,403 of more than 384,000 acres offered. An additional 64,000 acres were leased in noncompetitive sales the following day, Alex Jensen, geologist and geothermal program lead for BLM Nevada, said in an interview. Parcels offered as part of the original auction remain available for noncompetitive lease-purchase for two years, Jensen said.

In October 2018, BLM sold leases on 2,321 of more than 27,000 acres offered and brought in $26,422 in receipts, according to the bureau’s Nevada office.

Jensen said the auction indicates growing interest in geothermal power generation, which he attributes to interest in renewable generation resources generally and geothermal’s ability to provide zero-emissions baseload power with a lower per-acre disruption footprint than solar and wind.

Advances in research and exploration technology and regulatory pressure to meet renewables portfolio standards and greenhouse gas-reduction goals are other factors that make geothermal attractive, Jim Faulds, director and state geologist with the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology at the University of Nevada, Reno, said in a phone interview.

Geothermal’s main drawback, Jensen said, is upfront costs for exploration. “It costs between $2 million and $7 million” to drill a well between 3,000 and 8,000 feet deep in the hope of finding a system, he said. With Nevada’s fault-controlled systems, he explained, the well must hit a fault precisely in order to generate power.

“If you miss by 200 feet you could have spent $2 to $7 million on an unusable well,” Jensen said. It’s extremely capital-intensive to take a project all the way to production, “but it essentially means you’re buying the next 35 years’ worth of fuel for your power plant,” he said.

The largest bid in this week’s sale, $20 per acre for a 4,800-acre parcel, came from Western States Environment and Resources of Houston, according to the BLM release. WSER beat out Terra-Gen to pay $96,000 for the parcel, located immediately adjacent to Terra-Gen’s 67-MW Dixie Valley Power Plant in Churchill County.

Churchill County is the “epicenter” for geothermal in Nevada, Faulds said. He and his team are nearing completion of a five-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that resulted in the identification of two new geothermal systems in the state. The three-phase project involved studying the characteristics of known geothermal systems, doing a detailed study of five promising areas, and then drilling preliminary wells to demonstrate the existence of a system.

The area in the Granite Springs Valley system identified in the project received bids in the sale, Faulds said. The second system, in Gabbs Valley, is even more promising from a geothermal perspective, he said, but it runs adjacent to a wilderness area and was not offered in this sale.

Bidders realize that certain parcels come with environmental strings attached, affecting their usefulness, Jensen said. If a parcel is located in a bighorn sheep habitat, for instance, exploration must cease during lambing season. A lot of the unsold parcels were on sage grouse habitat, he said.

As long as bidders diligently explore and develop their parcels, pay their annual rent and comply with BLM rules and environmental regulations, the leases are valid for 10 years with an option to extend. Once a geothermal power plant goes into production on a parcel, that parcel is held as long as the plant is operational. At that point, the leaseholder pays royalties rather than rent.

Interest in geothermal speculation spiked in 2008 and remained high in 2009, Jensen said. Since that time, “a lot of companies learned it was a lot more difficult and expensive than they had realized.”

During that time, DOE distributed “a decent amount of money” for geothermal research, which has remained stable due to congressional support, Faulds said.

The BLM in its release said the Nevada lease sale reflects the Trump administration’s goal of promoting America’s energy independence. DOE’s Geothermal Technologies Office 2019 GeoVision report suggests that “improving the tools, technologies, and methodologies used to explore, discover, access, and manage geothermal resources would reduce costs and risks associated with geothermal developments.” Such reductions, the GTO estimates, could increase geothermal generation to 60 GW of capacity by 2050.

Jensen said tremendous geothermal resources exist across the country, particularly in Western states, Alaska and Hawaii. He estimated that as much as 1.5 GW of potential in the Salton Sea area of California could go on line within 10 years if there were incentives to explore and develop the systems.

“You could drill anywhere on Earth, and there’s no chance you won’t hit heat eventually,” he said.”

Job Announcements from BLM

A message from BLM: We are pleased to announce new, exciting positions available at BLM – BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT.   It is our hope that qualified, career oriented individuals at your organization or other professionals known to you will actively consider this position and apply accordingly.  Efforts on your part to disseminate this information are greatly appreciated.

Job Description:  Civil Engineer;
Announcement Number:  OR-DEU-2019-0074;
Location(s) of position:  Lakeview, OR, US, Prineville, OR, US;
Salary:  (USD) $74,596 – (USD) $96,978;
Applications will be accepted until:  10/09/2019.
For additional information on this job posting, please visit the BLM job posting.  

Job Description:  Hydrologist;
Announcement Number:  NM-DEU-2019-0105;
Location(s) of position:  Carlsbad, NM, US;
Salary:  (USD) $49,081 – (USD) $78,042;
Applications will be accepted until:  10/11/2019.
For additional information on this job posting, please vist the BLM job posting.

Job Description:  Human Resources Specialist (Employee Relations);
Announcement Number:  NV-INT-2020-0002;
Location(s) of position:  Reno, NV, US;
Salary:  (USD) $51,440 – (USD) $80,912;
Applications will be accepted until:  10/14/2019.
For additional information on this job posting, please visit the BLM job posting.

Association of Engineering Geologists, Great Basin Chapter Monthly Dinner Meetings 2019–2020

AEG Great Basin Chapter Speaker Roster 20192020

The monthly meeting dates vary each month, but they are always on Thursdays. AEG Great Basin Chapter Website

No meeting in October.

November 7, 2019 
Dr. Chad Carlson
“Oroville Dam Emergency Response: Geologic Considerations for Spillway Repairs and the Engineering Geologists’ Contributions during Construction”

December 5, 2019 
C. Paul White
“Archaeological Perspectives on Alaska’s Historic Gold Mills”

January 9, 2020
Naomi Duerr
“Geo-Political Issues Regarding Floodplains in Washoe County”

February 6, 2020 Chapter Meeting 
Jahns Lecture Series, Scott Lindvall Lecturer
“Characterizing Fault Displacement Hazards: Significant Progress and Significant Uncertainties”

February 7, 2020
Lecture on UNR Campus:  “A Tale of Three Dams Along the Owens Valley Fault System”

March 12, 2020 
Stephen Dickenson
“Geotechnical Forensics following Earthquakes: A Tale of Two Buildings” 

April 16, 2020, Student Night
Student speakers and topics to be announced in March



RSVP TO MERRILY GRAHAM (RSVP IN SUBJECT LINE) NO LATER THAN 5 PM, on the TUESDAY before the meeting date: mkgraham75@gmail.com

Awards at GSA, Phoenix—September 22–25, 2019

Craig dePolo Honored with GSA Fellowship
“Society Fellowship is an honor bestowed on the best of our profession by election at the spring GSA Council meeting.”



Craig M. dePolo (Nevada Bureau Mines & Geology): Dr. dePolo is widely recognized by his peers in the areas of neotectonics, paleoseismology, and earthquake preparedness. He has published numerous reports and maps at the NBMG and in peer-reviewed journals. Dr. dePolo has been a driving force for earthquake preparedness in Nevada for more than 30 years. —William Lund

Jason Craig Wins Second Place: Best Student Geologic Map Competition
Jason Craig is a graduate student at University of Nevada, Reno (advisor, Jim Faulds).

“As part of Geologic Map Day (October 18, 2019) and Earth Science Week (October 13-19, 2019, the U.S. Geological Survey invited university-level students to enter its 2019 Best Student Geologic Map Competition. The contest will be judged at the Geological Society of America’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, September 22-25, 2019.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with AGI, GSA, GSA Foundation, Association of American State Geologists, American Institute of Professional Geologists, and the Journal of Maps, is proud to be hosting the 7th annual Best Student Geologic Map Competition at the GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. The competition will highlight student research from around the world that utilizes field mapping and the creation of geologic maps as a major component.”


Discovery and Analysis of a Blind Geothermal System in Southeastern Gabbs Valley, Western Nevada

CRAIG, Jason W., Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557

GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA – 2019; Paper No. 94-2



This study assessed the potential for high-temperature (≥130°C) blind geothermal systems in southeastern Gabbs Valley, Nevada, an area with no previously known geothermal activity or geothermal exploration, by integration of geologic, geophysical, and geochemical datasets. Gabbs Valley is a complex, tectonically active basin within the Great Basin on the boundary between the transtensional central Walker Lane domain and extensional Basin and Range province. The termination of the Petrified Springs fault, a major dextral fault of the central Walker Lane, into an array of normal faults indicates that the area occupies a displacement transfer zone, which is a favorable structural setting for geothermal activity. A substantial northwest-trending gravity high within the south-central part of the basin is produced from offsets along concealed northwest-striking dextral-normal faults that intersect strands of north-northeast-striking normal faults. Multiple lines of direct and indirect evidence suggest the presence of a blind geothermal system in this area, including collocated intersecting gravity gradients, magnetic-low, low-resistivity, and 2-m temperature anomaly. Potentially related, warm (32°C) water samples from agricultural wells 7 km northwest of the 2-m temperature anomaly yield geothermometers indicating subsurface fluid temperatures of 130-140°C. Six temperature-gradient holes were drilled to target the extent of the shallow-temperature and geophysical anomalies. Two wells contained high temperatures exceeding boiling with bottom-hole temperatures of 114.5°C and 124.9°C, and the remaining wells displayed elevated to background temperatures ranging from 79.2°C to 28.7°C. The observed temperature gradients for the two hottest drill holes necessitate intercepts of hydrothermal fluids and establish the discovery of a blind geothermal system that may be capable of supporting a power plant.

Congratulations to Craig and Jason!

NBMG Earth Science Week Public Field Trip: This Saturday, October 12

Lode and Behold! Geology and Natural Resources of the Truckee Meadows and Virginia City

You are invited to join us on Saturday, October 12 as geoscientists from Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology explain the geology of the Truckee Meadows and Virginia City areas—in celebration of Earth Science Week 2019 and the importance of earth sciences to the people of the state of Nevada.

Here is the sign-up page: http://www.nbmg.unr.edu/ScienceEducation/EarthScienceWeek/index.html

More details will be emailed to those who have signed up.

Major stops on this field trip will include the following:

  • Ormat geothermal plant in south Reno
  • Chollar Mine (open pit mine site) in Virginia City

Trip leaders will be Mike Ressel, Rachel Micander, and Jack Hursh.

Meeting location: 18250 Wedge Parkway in south Reno (off of the Mount Rose Highway). We will be meeting in the parking lot between the Starbucks and Raley’s at 8:00 AM. Look for the Nevada flag.

The trip will end and leave the Virginia City area about 3:30.

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday!

NBMG coordinates annual geology field trips for the public during, or near, Earth Science Week. These field trips are fun, educational, family oriented, and always free. NBMG has been an active participant in Earth Science Week since it began in 1998. See information on previous ESW field trips at this site:

http://www.nbmg.unr.edu/ScienceEducation/Geotripping.html “Since October 1998, the American Geosciences Institute has organized this national and international event to help the public gain a better understanding and appreciation for the Earth sciences and to encourage stewardship of the Earth. This year’s Earth Science Week will be held from October 13–19, 2019 and will celebrate the theme “Geoscience Is for Everyone.” The coming year’s event will emphasize both the inclusive potential and the importance of the geosciences in the lives of all people.” (ESW website)

NBMG 2021 Nevada Geology Calendar Contest: Now Accepting Entries!

If you take this TMCC class and want to share your beautiful images of geologic landscapes with others, you can submit some of your photos to the NBMG 2021 Nevada Geology Calendar contest! Here are the details:

Deadline for entries is May 31, 2020.

  • Photos need to be taken in Nevada. A location description and/or GPS coordinates should accompany submissions along with description.
  • High-quality, high-resolution photo files of at least 300 DPI are required for quality printing.
  • You may enter as many photos as you wish.
  • Email submissions to Jack Hursh (jhursh@unr.edu).
  • NBMG Cartographers will make the final decision on the winning photos.
  • Prizes will be awarded for first-, second-, and third-place winners.