Geothermal well briefly raises a stink in city neighborhood

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – The second city-owned house to receive funding for a geothermal utility recently caused a stink among neighbors.

During an installation for a house at 848 Lincoln, the sulfur smell from water in an artesian well created what residents called a noxious odor last month. The water rose up the shaft and then traveled along the gutter to the sewer drain.

Municipal Services General Manager Melanie McCoy said well drilling subcontractor Ed Birkmeier Well Drilling Ltd. of New Lothrop encountered the well about 600 feet down the 5-inch diameter well shaft. The drilling was part of installations of geothermal capabilities at two city-owned properties during the first phase of its Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

James French, assistant to the general manager for Municipal Services, said the drilling began Nov. 10, and that officials received the first noxious odor complaints two days later from nearby residents. Jeff Caplan of Cappy Heating and Cooling in Livonia said the smell was emanating from the water, which was completely capped by Nov. 19.

Before the capping, the sulfur-smelling runoff water, which initially had been draining through the open gutter, was collected in a catch basin. The water then was carried through a hose to the city storm drain to alleviate the sulfur smell.

French said the smell was not created by a pollutant, but by naturally occurring sulfur content in the water.

Officials say a mudlike slurry cement may be used future geothermal well drilling sites to coat the drill shaft and prevent sulfur-smelling artesian spring water from seeping into the passage and to the surface.

McCoy said sulfur springs are common in Michigan because of the state’s geology, and that the smell often is encountered by cottage owners who drill for wells. She also said sulfur springs are highly valued as health spas in some parts of the world.

Dave Congdon, a consultant with Eco1Energy Consulting working with Hardin Geotechnology LLC, the advanced energy group working on the project, will be handling two more residential geothermal heat pump wells in the immediate future and will hire the drillers.

Hardin supplies the exclusive ideas and methods, as well as the pipe and fusion technology for the energy project, which provides Wyandotte with one of several alternative energy tax credits being actively pursued in order to fulfill federal requirements.

Ralph Hope, a city employee and technology project manager, said buying renewable energy credits to fulfill federal mandates is the city’s primary focus. He said another renewable energy source the city is currently pursuing to fulfill federal mandates is superheating biomass byproducts to generate electrical energy.