Op-Ed: Geothermal Power Provides Clean and Safe Power for California

In a notable show of collaboration, the Geothermal Energy Association and the Geothermal Resources Council joined in authoring a response to a July 11 article in the Los Angeles Times.  The article was titled, “SoCal geothermal power production causes earthquakes, study says.”  The response is given in full below and is still under consideration for publishing by LA Times. See also, see also an Op-Ed in the Sacramento Bee by Peter Schiffman, William Glassley and Elise Brown (California Geothermal Energy Collaborative at UC Davis).

Geothermal Power Provides Clean and Safe Power for California:

The Los Angeles Times article published July 11 associating seismic activity with geothermal power plants near the Salton Sea needs to be read carefully and reacted to calmly. The Geothermal Energy Association and the Geothermal Resource Council share the public’s concern about earthquakes, as do the geothermal companies, whose hundreds of employees and their families that call Southern California home. Unfortunately, the impression that a reader could get is one of serious safety risk, when neither the study being quoted nor other studies conducted in the area reach that conclusion.

Geothermal projects are typically located in seismically active areas due to the nature of tectonic plates shifting and bringing magma closer to the surface. We need that activity to create the underground reservoirs that are the lifeblood of our industry. That being said, we do not want to damage those reservoirs by creating catastrophic events that could potentially deplete the resource therefore we take every precaution to sustain the areas in which we operate, both on the ground and beneath the surface.

According to experts who are actively working on projects within the industry, such at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy, the Salton Sea geothermal plants — which are re-injecting geothermal fluids already present underground — are simply not likely to significantly impact the San Andreas fault zone, which is located miles away. Moreover, the companies operating in Southern California actively monitor seismicity in and around their power plants taking the necessary actions needed to minimize potential impacts.

The geothermal industry has helped implement and is actively engaged in efforts by the U.S. Department of Energy to uphold and continue to develop protocols for safe practices. In addition, the GEA actively supported the recent efforts of the National Research Council (NRC) to produce a state-of-the-art study of induced seismicity risks as it relates to geothermal energy. We believe that the best course of action is openness and engagement, so we encouraged companies and others to participate in the public hearing meeting held July 14, 2011 by the NRC in Berkeley, California.

It is worth noting that the NRC study, titled “Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies,” released in June 2012, indicated that conventional geothermal projects pose limited risk for induced seismicity. NRC writes: “Liquid-dominated field developments generally cause little if any induced seismicity because the water injection typically replaces similar quantities of fluid extracted at similar pressures and temperatures.”

Geothermal power production provides clean, reliable and safe power for California. We hope your readers recognize that the risks from climate change are much greater than the natural micro-seismic events occurring near geothermal reservoirs.

The geothermal industry does not claim to have all the answers, but we will continue to be proactively vigilant and apply what we learn to industry best practices — practices which are now in use and have safeguards built in to account for the safety of the reservoir and the residents of the areas in which we continue to successfully operate.

Karl Gawell, Executive Director, Geothermal Energy Association
Steve Ponder, Executive Director, Geothermal Resources Council

GEA is the trade association for companies working to expand the use of geothermal power in the U.S. and worldwide.
GRC is the primary professional, scientific and educational association for the international geothermal community.

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