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Could Geothermal Plans Add To Deadly Quake Risk At LANL?

October 29, 2009, 12:00 am
By Corey Pein
The New Mexico "Green Jobs Cabinet report" was released yesterday. It's 98 pages of wonkery not intended for the casual reader.geothermal

Not to nitpick—or fearmonger—but there's a word missing in the report. It's kind of important. The word is earthquakes.

Although the report spends a good amount of space assessing New Mexico's potential for geothermal energy—and exploring "Synergies with the Oil and Gas Industry"—it fails to mention, even in passing, one major potential downside of this particular "green" power source: It can cause earthquakes.

From The New York Times earlier this summer:
Power companies have long produced limited amounts of geothermal energy by tapping shallow steam beds, often beneath geysers or vents called fumaroles. Even those projects can induce earthquakes, although most are small. But for geothermal energy to be used more widely, engineers need to find a way to draw on the heat at deeper levels percolating in the earth's core.

Some geothermal advocates believe the method used in Basel, and to be tried in California, could be that breakthrough. But because large earthquakes tend to originate at great depths, breaking rock that far down carries more serious risk, seismologists say. Seismologists have long known that human activities can trigger quakes, but they say the science is not developed enough to say for certain what will or will not set off a major temblor.

New Mexico's geothermal wells could go very deep indeed. "One of the largest costs in geothermal power systems is the drilling of the wells necessary to access the high temperature resources. These wells may need to be 10,000 ft deep or more,"the green jobs report says.

What's the big deal? In case you missed it, here's a story from yesterday's Los Angeles Times. It's titled, "Study finds quake risk at Los Alamos: Seismic activity at the nuclear lab could result in deadly amounts of airborne plutonium, federal experts say."
A big earthquake and resultant fire could trigger potentially deadly releases of radioactive materials from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico due to "major deficiencies" in the nuclear weapons lab's safety planning, federal safety experts warned Tuesday.

SFR's Alexa Schirtzinger delved into the LANL safety report here yesterday.

I'm not a geologist. But it'd seem wise for state and federal scientists study these risks fully before the energy industry starts exploiting this particular "synergy" anywhere near the nukes.

 

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