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The Snake River Plain (SRP) volcanic province overlies the track of the Yellowstone hotspot, a thermal anomaly that extends deep into the mantle. Most of the area is underlain by a basaltic volcanic province that overlies a mid-crustal intrusive complex, which in turn provides the long-term heat flux needed to sustain geothermal systems. Previous studies have identified several known geothermal resource areas within the SRP. For the geothermal study presented herein, our goals were to: (1) adapt the methodology of Play Fairway Analysis (PFA) for geothermal exploration to create a formal basis for its application to geothermal systems, (2) assemble relevant data for the SRP from publicly available and private sources, and (3) build a geothermal PFA model for the SRP and identify the most promising plays, using GIS-based software tools that are standard in the petroleum industry.

The study focused on identifying three critical resource parameters for exploitable hydrothermal systems in the SRP: heat source, reservoir and recharge permeability, and cap or seal. Data included in the compilation for heat source were heat flow, distribution and ages of volcanic vents, groundwater temperatures, thermal springs and wells, helium isotope anomalies, and reservoir temperatures estimated using geothermometry. Reservoir and recharge permeability was inferred from the analysis of stress orientations and magnitudes, post-Miocene faults, and subsurface structural lineaments based on magnetics and gravity data. Data for cap or seal included the distribution of impermeable lake sediments and clay-seal associated with hydrothermal alteration below the regional aquifer. These data were used to compile Common Risk Segment maps for heat, permeability, and seal, which were combined to create a Composite Common Risk Segment map for all southern Idaho that reflects the risk associated with geothermal resource exploration and identifies favorable resource tracks.

Our regional assessment indicated that undiscovered geothermal resources may be located in several areas of the SRP. Two of these areas, the western SRP and Camas Prairie, were selected for more detailed assessment, during which heat, permeability, and seal were evaluated using newly collected field data and smaller grid parameters to refine the location of potential resources. These higher resolution assessments illustrate the flexibility of our approach over a range of scales.