Geothermal Power Projects Abandoned in Switzerland, California


It's like that 1965 movie Crack in the World, where drilling for geothermal energy causes all kinds of problems. There are such high hopes for real geothermal power; there is a lot of heat down there that can vaporize water and run turbines.

Unfortunately, when the water hits the rocks and vaporizes, it packs a lot of power; above ground it can run steam engines and below ground, it appears to cause earthquakes. This isn't news; Brian wrote Huge Geothermal Power Project Could Cause Quakes back in June. But now they are facing the music. In Basel, the government shut down a big geothermal project permanently after it caused $9 million in damages to homes.

And now AltaRock Energy has abandoned its controversial project in Northern California.

 drawings of drilling image

James Glanz did a terrific video explanation of the earthquake risk in June's New York Times

AltaRock had previously suspended drilling at the demonstration project, noting in a press release in September:

AltaRock attempted to redrill E-7 three separate times from starting depths of 3202 ft, 1674 ft and 2733 ft. Each attempt reached a total depth in the range of 4100-4400 ft, before the drilling assembly became stuck due to the hole collapsing in the unstable serpentine and mélange. AltaRock is currently reviewing the reasons for the particularly unstable behavior of the formation below E-7. However, long term injection into the area may have contributed to the problems.

Drilling is an inherently risky business with significant challenges. The Geysers is an especially difficult and unusual drilling environment because of the existence of serpentinized peridotite, which contains clays and fibrous material that will become unstable and collapse or flow when exposed to water over an extended period of time.

Now it has gone further and told the Energy Department that "it will not be continuing work at the Geysers."

James Glanz writes in the Times about the impact of the shutdown last week in Basel:

The findings are a serious blow to the hopes of environmentalists, entrepreneurs and investors who believe that advanced geothermal energy could substantially cut the world's use of emissions-causing fossil fuels.

One can certainly say the same thing about AltaRock.

More from James Glanz in the New York Times

More on Geothermal Power and Earthquakes
Geothermal Power Plant Triggers Earthquake in Switzerland
Huge Geothermal Power Project Could Cause Quakes

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