Geothermal Energy Project May Have Caused an Earthquake

By Brett Israel | September 17, 2009 7:00 am

geothermal_webGeothermal energy, a promising but increasing controversial type of alternative energy, is on the hot seat again, this time in a German town that experienced an earthquake that some are blaming on the local geothermal power plant. A government panel is investigating claims that the plant triggered a magnitude-2.7 earthquake on 15 August in the town of Landau…. If the panel finds against the company that built the plant, Geox of Landau, it could be shut down [New Scientist].

Geox hasn’t been very vocal about the cause of the quake, but company officials initially denied any responsibility for the temblor and continue to dispute the government’s data linking the project to the quake. The panel will, among other things, have to sort through the conflicting data presented by the company and government scientists [The New York Times].

Geothermal plants often require drilling several miles underground, and then pumping hot water into small cracks in rocks, which causes them to expand and release a surge of steam—just like popping a lid off a soda bottle—then the steam rises and spins a turbine [Scientific American]. Critics say that pushing pressurized fluids through deep geological formations triggers the quakes.

Proponents of geothermal technology say it can produce huge amounts of steady, clean energy. But this isn’t the first time a geothermal plant has come under fire. In 2006 in Basel, Switzerland a geothermal project set off an earthquake, shaking and damaging buildings and terrifying many [The New York Times]. Another geothermal project in Northern California drew heavy protests, and was recently shut down due to engineering problems.

Related Content:
80beats: Geothermal Explosion Highlights a Downside of a Leading Alt-Energy Source
80beats: Drillers Tap Into a 1000-Degree Magma Chamber by Accident
80beats: Google Invests in Energy From Hot Rocks Deep Underground
DISCOVER: The Great Forgotten Clean-Energy Source: Geothermal

Image: flickr / stevecoutts


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