Apparently, West Virginia sits atop a potential industrial gold mine, a source of boundless free energy even greater than the state's rich coal deposits.
It's geothermal heat - 400-degree power seething 3 miles underground in semi-magma rock layers - that might be tapped by deep wells for steam-turbine electricity generating plants.
Researchers at Southern Methodist University's Geothermal Laboratory studied temperature readings from 1,400 West Virginia oil, gas and water wells. They found indications that the East Coast's strongest "hot spots" lie beneath Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Randolph and Tucker counties.
"It appears to be hotter than other areas on the East Coast," SMU researcher Zachary Frone said. SMU estimated West Virginia's geothermal power-generation potential at 18,890 megawatts - exceeding the 16,350 megawatts currently derived from coal, river dams and other sources.
West Virginia University engineer Brian Anderson commented: "I actually do think it is something to be excited about. ... It's a reserve, or resource, of energy that West Virginia has that other places don't."
Geothermal heat is the molten "hell" inside the planet that can be seen when volcanoes spill rivers of fiery lava. Part of it stems from the original formation of Earth, and part comes from radioactive decay of minerals. If this power could be utilized more fully, it would meet all human needs worldwide forever.
"The amount of heat available from the Earth under the United States alone is enough to power the current U.S. energy demand for 10,000 years," WVU's Anderson said. "You can consider the geothermal energy source an infinite energy source."
Reaching this free power requires drilling extra-deep wells - costing around $10 million each - then pouring in water to make steam. Such operations already exist in Italy, New Zealand, California, Nevada, Germany and elsewhere. A recent attempt in Switzerland triggered local earthquakes and had to be canceled.
State Geologist Michael Hohn says the sedimentary rock of the Appalachians presumably wouldn't cause quakes of the sort suffered in Switzerland.
Geothermal wells release some polluting gases trapped deep underground - but only about 4 percent of the pollution freed by burning fossil fuels. Thus geothermal is considered clean "green energy." It's more reliable than wind and solar, which generate electricity only when the wind blows or the sun shines during daylight hours.
The promise of an important new geothermal power industry in West Virginia is a bright prospect. State leaders and the Legislature should launch studies to evaluate this enticing possibility.