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Engineers Plan to Pour 24 Million Gallons of Water Into Dormant Oregon Volcano

Will it spark an earthquake? Fears over plans to pour 24 million gallons of water – and $43 million – into Oregon volcano to see if it can create electricity.

Site: The Newberry Volcano, which has not erupted in 1,300 years, is 20 miles south of Bend, Oregon. Geothermal developers are interested in extracting heat from hot rocks beneath the surface.

Engineers are set to pour 24 million gallons of water into a dormant volcano in Oregon to test whether it can create a renewable source of energy that does not rely on the weather. Water will be pumped into the Newberry volcano – 20 miles south of Bend, Oregon – to pick up heat from fractures in the base of the rock. The heated water then turns to steam, generating power. But the project, which will start this summer, has sparked concerns that pumping water deep into the belly of a volcano could lead to an earthquake – as similar projects have in the past.

Using the earth’s heat to generate power, known as geothermal energy, is an alternative to other renewable energy sources, such as turbines or solar panels. These processes rely on stiff breezes and regular sunshine to generate enough power, yet the geothermal technology can provide a consistent source of energy. But as well as quake fears, there are also concerns it is hard to create a reservoir big enough to run a commercial power plant.

Despite these worries, the federal government, Google and other investors are interested enough to bet $43 million on the Oregon project. Together with AltaRock Energy, Inc. from Seattle and Davenport Newberry Holdings LLC from Stamford, Connecticut, they will test whether the new level in geothermal power can work.

‘We know the heat is there,’ Susan Petty, president of AltaRock, told the Associated Press. ‘The big issue is can we circulate enough water through the system to make it economic.’

Distance: Developers say it is far enough from an urban area that damage is unlikely if there is an quake

In geothermal energy, hot water or steam that bubbles near the surface is used to turn a turbine creating electricity. But most viable areas have been exploited. Now engineers are in search of places with hot rocks that are not cracked, using a new technology called Enhanced Geothermal Systems. ‘To build geothermal in a big way beyond where it is now requires new technology, and that is where EGS comes in,’ Steve Hickman, a research geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, told the AP.

Wells are drilled deep into the rock and water is pumped in, creating tiny fractures in the rock, a process known as hydroshearing. Cold water is then pumped down wells into the reservoir, and steam is drawn out. Over three weeks, AltaRock will pour 800 gallons of water per minute into the 10,600-foot test well.

The process will produce a reservoir of cracks starting about 6,000 feet below the surface, and reaching down to 11,000 feet. It would be about 3,300 feet in diameter.

Thanks to worries about earthquakes and space constraints, progress in the technology has been slow so far. There are two small plants in France and Germany. A project in Australia has had drilling problems, while a plant in Basel, Switzerland, was shut down after earthquake complaints.

An international protocol comes out at the end of this month that urges EGS developers to keep projects out of urban areas to avoid quake damage.

It is believed that the danger of a major earthquake at Newberry is low as it has no significant fault lines. It is also far enough from populated areas that property damage would be unlikely.

But the Department of Energy will be monitoring the project and any significant quakes would shut it down temporarily.

…(Daily Mail)

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January 17, 2012 - Posted by | Seismic, Volcanic | , , , ,

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