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The geothermal resources in the eastern United States are liquid-dominated, low-temperature systems, oriented toward nonelectric power applications such as space heating and industrial processes (Toth, 1980; John Hopkins University, 1981). Evaluation of the geothermal resource potential in the eastern U.S. takes place in a geologic framework quite unlike that of the western U.S., where geothermal energy is primarily used in the generation of electric power. The resource in the East must be both large and favorably located with respect to potential utilization; fortunately, a large fraction of our energy consumption currently is devoted to space heating. The high costs associated with drilling for, pumping, and circulating warm water make it important to locate the highest temperatures at the shallowest depths.

Systematic efforts to estimate the geothermal resources of the United States have been made by the U.S. Geological Survey (Muffler, 1979; Sammel, 1979; Reed, 1983). Muffler and Cataldi (1978) proposed the use of a consistent terminology for geothermal resource assessment. The “geothermal resource base” is defined as all of the thermal energy in the Earth's crust under a given area, measured from the mean annual temperature. The “accessible resource base” is that part of the resource base shallow enough to be tapped by production drilling, and it is divided into “useful” and “residual” components. The “useful” component is defined as thermal energy that could be extracted at costs competitive with other forms of energy at some specified future time. This useful component is the subject of this section.

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