The New York Times reports that the Swiss have decided that building geothermal energy projects requiring fracturing of rock under towns is a little too scary for them - Quake Threat Leads Swiss to Close Geothermal Project.
A $60 million project to extract renewable energy from the hot bedrock deep beneath Basel, Switzerland, was shut down permanently on Thursday after a government study determined that earthquakes generated by the project were likely to do millions of dollars in damage each year.
The project, led by Markus O. Häring, a former oilman, was suspended in late 2006 after it generated earthquakes that did no bodily harm but caused about $9 million in mostly minor damage to homes and other structures. Mr. Häring is to go to trial next week on criminal charges stemming from the project. On Thursday, he did not respond to messages asking for comment.
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. The report comes as the United States Energy Department is preparing its own review of the safety of a closely related project, by a start-up company called AltaRock Energy, in the hills north of San Francisco.
The AltaRock project is the Obama administration’s first major test of advanced geothermal energy. Like the Basel project, AltaRock’s plan is to drill miles underground, fracture hot bedrock and circulate water through it to generate steam. The Energy Department began its review after an article in The New York Times in June raised questions about whether AltaRock had been forthcoming about the earthquakes set off by the fracturing in Basel. The AltaRock project has also been plagued with technical problems.
Scientists said on Thursday that because the Swiss report focused narrowly on the Basel project and also contained positive findings, it would not prove fatal to advanced geothermal energy as a whole.
For example, while the report concluded that residents of Basel would have felt from 14 to 170 earthquakes over the 30-year life of the project, few if any of those earthquakes would be likely to cause bodily harm, according to an English summary of the report provided by Rudolf Braun, the Swiss scientist who led the work.