The Significance of Acid Alteration in the Los Humeros High-Temperature Geothermal Field, Puebla, Mexico.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Wilfred A Elders, University of California, Riverside, CA, United States and Georgina Izquierdo, Instituto de Investigaciones Electricas, Geotermia, Cuernavaca, Mexico
The Los Humeros geothermal field is a high-enthalpy hydrothermal system with more than 40 drilled deep wells, mostly producing high steam fractions at > 300oC. However, although it has a large resource potential, low permeability and corrosive acid fluids have hampered development so that it currently has an installed electrical generating capacity of only 40 MWe. The widespread production of low pH fluids from the reservoir is inconsistent with the marked absence in the reservoir rocks of hydrothermal minerals typical of acid alteration. Instead the hydrothermal alteration observed is typical of that due to neutral to alkaline pH waters reacting with the volcanic rocks of the production zones. Thus it appears that since the reservoir has recently suffered a marked drop in fluid pressure and is in process of transitioning from being water-dominated to being vapor-dominated. However sparse examples of acid leaching are observed locally at depths of about 2 km in the form of bleached, intensely silicified zones, in low permeability and very hot (>350oC) parts of reservoir. Although these leached rocks retain their primary volcanic and pyroclastic textures, they are altered almost entirely to microcrystalline quartz, with some relict pseudomorphs of plagioclase phenocrysts and traces of earlier-formed hydrothermal chlorite and pyrite. These acid-altered zones are usually only some tens of meters thick and deeper rocks lack such silicification. The acid fluids responsible for their formation could either be magmatic volatiles, or could be formed during production (e.g. reaction of water and salts forming hydrogen chloride by hydrolysis at high temperatures). The very high boron content of the fluids produced by the Los Humeros wells suggests that their ultimate source is most likely magmatic gases. However, these acid gases did not react widely with the rocks. We suggest that the silicified zones are forming locally where colder descending waters are encountering superheated (or possibly supercritical) steam containing acid gas, thus forming low pH liquids that react with the reservoir rocks.