For the first time in Canada, drills are delving 3,500 metres beneath the earth’s surface in hopes of hitting an aquifer hot enough to produce geothermal energy.

The test well near Torquay, Sask. is the deepest well ever dug in the province.

“Heat is the resource. Water is the medium to move the heat,” DEEP Earth Energy Production Corp. president Kirsten Marcia explained. “What’s essential in this project is that we’re able to move the water – in this case, actually, a brine – at a rate that will support a power facility. ”

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Without geysers or hot springs, Saskatchewan may not be the first place that comes to mind for groundbreaking geothermal experiments, but the southern part of the province is home to the Deadwood Formation, a feature of the Williston Basin that contains water at a blistering 120 degrees Celsius.

“Geothermal resources are not everywhere. They’re specific based on the nature of the rocks that are there. In southern Saskatchewan, we happen to have really great rocks for geothermal energy,” geoscientist Brian Brunkill said. “It’s literally beneath our feet and doesn’t produce greenhouse gases.”

It’s a popular source of renewable energy in Europe and the United States – so how does it work?

“We can use standard oilfield drilling technology to drill a well into that aquifer and pump that hot water to surface, strip the heat out of that water and use it to heat our buildings,” Brunskill explained.

“But, we need two wells to create a geothermal system. We pump the hot water through one well, take the heat out of it, and put it back down the other well into the aquifer.”

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Marcia says there’s also potential to find additional uses for the wastewater.

“We’ve always known there’s this resource there, but we’re chasing oil and gas and potash and other wonderful resources here. We’ve been ignoring water as a cost versus a commodity.”

DEEP Earth Energy Production Corp.’s five megawatt project near Torquay is aiming to eventually provide enough energy to power 500 homes and offset about 27,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – the equivalent of taking more than 7,000 cars off the road annually.

$175,000 in provincial funds and a $1.3 million Department of Natural Resources grant will help chip away at the $50 million project price tag.

SaskPower has already signed a deal to buy the energy.

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While he’s not involved with this program, Brunkill says a Canadian geothermal energy project is long overdue.

“Besides being, essentially, a carbon free energy source, it’s very reliable,” Brunkill noted. “It’s very predictable and there’s no storage requirement. Like many alternative fuel sources, there’s a lot of capital expense up front. We have to weigh that against the long term value.”

Marcia says the exploratory well being drilled now will lay the guideline for the actual producing wells, which will break ground in the spring.

The company hopes to put the power to use within three years.