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Imperial Valiev’s Geothermal Resources Come of Age

Vince Signorotti
Vince Signorotti
Unocal Geothermal Division
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January 01, 1991


One crisp November morning in 1957, farm workers on the Sinclair Ranches near Calipatria witnessed a curious spectacle. Jouncing along the rutted ranch roads came a small caravan of trucks and trailers laden with steel masts, draw works, diesel motors, cables, pulleys and related paraphernalia of then-modern oil and gas drilling rigs. In those days, rigs were a rare sight in the Imperial Valley.

The expedition was financed by Kent Imperial Co. of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and led by chief geologist, Robert W. Cypher, and drilling expert, R.B. Mitchell, who directed the procession to the southeastern corner of the ranch, rigged up and began "makin' hole within spit tin' distance of the Salton Sea."

This was Sinclair No. 1, an exploratory oil-gas venture which found neither one, but instead drilled into "a vast subterranean basin of volcanically heated water." Thus was launched the Imperial Valley's on-again-off-again romance, a 30-year roller coaster ride with geothermal energy development.

Kent Imperial, along with other companies and individual wildcatters, drilled other geothermal wells near the Salton Sea, wells that produced hot salty fluids with dissolved mineral concentrations approaching 300,000 parts per million (ppm), ten times the salinity of sea water.

The economic jackpot promised by successful mineral extraction proved a powerful lure. A mineral recovery industry sprang up, with electrical power generation as a secondary product. But the fluids were corrosive and also caused plugging and scaling of equipment. After several years of trial and (mostly) error these ventures were abandoned.

Despite their disappointments,

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Society of Economic Geologists Guidebook Series

The Diversity of Mineral and Energy Resources of Southern California

Michael A. McKibben
Michael A. McKibben
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Society of Economic Geologists
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Publication date:
January 01, 1991



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