Less than 6 weeks left to register online for the GEA GEOEXPO+ & GRC Annual Meeting
The 2016 event brings to life the theme “Leading Innovation. Fostering Cooperation.” Who are the game changers in the geothermal energy industry? Check out the session Exhibitors Leading Innovation at the GEA Marketing Forum to see how GEA’s 2016 Exhibitors are paving the way for geothermal development through new projects, products/ services, and technology.
Interested in how federal and multilateral agencies can help geothermal power and possibly your business? Representatives from OPIC, USTDA, World Bank, Ex-Im Bank, US DOE GTO, USAID amongst others will step onto the Marketing Forum stage for the Agency Briefing. The goal- to bridge the gap between US companies and agency opportunities related to financing, grants, project work and resources. Other sessions include a KfW Development Bank Finance, Grant and Investment Workshop.
Visitor registration for the GEA GEOEXPO+ is now open and the GEA Marketing Forum Agenda was released earlier this week. With a multi-dimensional 3-day trade show and marketing forum and ample opportunities for networking, the GEA GEOEXPO+ presents attendees with the opportunity to maximize their exposure at a premier event.
If your company has a strong interest in promoting its projects, equipment, services, and technology as part of the GEA GEOEXPO+ please contact Rani Chatrath Rani@geo-energy.org +1 (202) 454-5261 to learn more about opportunities still available.
This event is held in conjunction with the GRC Annual Meeting. The GRC Annual Meeting this year supports the theme “Geothermal Energy – Here and Now: Sustainable, Clean, Flexible” highlighting the important role and values of geothermal energy today. Registration is now open for the GRC Annual Meeting.
Have you downloaded the GRC/GEA Event App? The app is a great way to connect with attendees prior to the event, set up meetings, keep track of your schedule, and more. Download the app directly by searching for “GRC Annual Meeting” in the Google Play store for android or in the Apple App store.
Congress is Back in Town, Critical Decisions on Tap for Geothermal!
By Karl Gawell
After a long August “District Work Period,” Congress returned to Washington DC, and plans to meet throughout the rest of the month before leaving again until the November elections. On its agenda are items of critical interest to the geothermal community including tax credits, energy legislation, and federal agency funding.
Tax Credits in Play: In December of last year, Congress extended the renewable tax credits. However, it left a lasting imbalance by extending wind and solar credits for 7 years while only extending credits for geothermal and most other renewable/clean energy technologies for one year. This leaves groups scrambling for parity with wind and solar. GEA has been working with a coalition known as the Section 48 Coalition, with Senator Heller (R-NV) taking a lead in the effort. The Heller proposal would include geothermal in the tax code on the same terms as solar, and extend credits for fuel cells, small wind, and other technologies now included in the Section 48 tax credit.
Whether there will be an opportunity for moving such legislation is unclear. There needs to be a legislative vehicle for it to move, and many people are eyeing either the Energy Bill, or a Continuing Resolution, both of which have their own issues.
The Energy Bill: The House and Senate both have passed Energy Bills, and this week will start a special “Conference Committee” to work out the differences. The Senate Bill, S.2012, includes important provision for geothermal energy. It set out a collaborative effort to define the US geothermal resource base, facilitates development of suitable public lands, removes a legal obstacle to co-producing geothermal power from oil and gas wells, promotes development of new discoveries through modest leasing reform, requires BLM to prepare a new Programmatic EIS, authorizes a DOE program of research, and expedites certain exploration activities.
The Senate and House conferees will have a meeting regarding S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016, which has been scheduled for Thursday, September 8, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. in Room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.
The purpose of this meeting is to hear opening statements from the conferees. No bill text or amendments will be considered at this meeting of the conferees. The meeting will be webcast live on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s website,http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/
, and an archived video will be available shortly after the meeting is complete.
Continuing Resolution: Another vehicle for tax credit extensions and other matters could be a Continuing Resolution. A Continuing Resolution is fundamentally a measure allowing federal agencies and programs to keep operating for a period of time when their annual funding (appropriations) bill has not been completed in time (September 31). So far, all 13 major appropriations bills have not made it to the finish line. So some form of “CR” is needed.
The question for the CR is whether it should run till some time in December, assuming a lame duck Congress will finish action, or whether it should run until March, leaving decisions to the next Congress. Since some House Conservatives are opposed to any lame duck session, the House Leadership is planning meetings this week to decide which path to take.
Whatever happens, the CR will direct agencies, like DOE and BLM, to spend at what is usually a reduced level and to avoid making commitments of funding that go beyond the term of the CR. These conditions along with reduced funding can crimp research efforts and agency performance.
One Year Tax Extenders: Whatever legislation passes in the final days, it’s likely to be the target for a tax extenders amendment. Despite the claim last December that the year-end tax bill would eliminate the need for tax extenders, it hasn’t. Congress made some credits permanent, gave others like wind and solar long-term extension, but left many to expire without any clear policy principle behind the decision. Conservative groups argue against extenders saying, “The ideal tax policy would be eliminating all credits and lowering the rate in a net tax cut.” But that didn’t happen, Congress didn’t get around to tax reform. So, again a few dozen – roughly 30+ — so-called “orphan” tax provisions will be the subject of an end of the year push to avoid expiration by achieving a one-year extension. It’s expected to be an uphill fight.
So, there are a lot of critical decisions for geothermal pending before Congress. There’s not much time and there’s a lot at stake. If there was ever a time for the geothermal community to pay attention to what Congress is doing, now’s the time.
Thank you to GEA Members New and Renewed!
GEA works to put geothermal on the map in Washington, Sacramento, and elsewhere. We depend upon our members support to do so. We work to make a difference so that the industry and your company can succeed.
This week we want to say thank you to following new/renewed GEA Members:
Island Oil Exploration
Geothermal Heating Part of Ambitious Plans of Polish Government
Targeting the improvement of air quality, the current Polish government now intends to fund up to 700 million Polish Zloty ($185 million) supporting drilling and construction of geothermal plants. Following failed plans for shale gas development, the planned funding could help to adapt wells that have been abandoned.
Shale gas was seen as a key in Poland reaching its goal to become energy independent, but with the withdrawal of Western partners, geothermal is believed to be able to fill that gap. One of the largest proponents for many years is Jacek Zimny from the Academy of Mining and Metallurgy and Ryszard Kozlowski Cracow University of Technology. Both refer to the legacy of Prof. Julian Sokolowski, who died 12 years ago. As the team leader of the Polish Academy of Sciences, he created the first map of geothermal energy resources and the concept of their use in 500 municipalities.
“With heating fuelled by geothermal energy, Poland could become completely independent from foreign energy sources.”, said Jacek Zimny.
As Head of the Polish Geothermal Association he has been advising people interested in investing in geothermal, among others an ambitious project in Torun.
In February this year, the country’s President Andrzej Duda appointed him to the National Development Council. In June, he was one of the main speakers at the conference organized by the National Fund for geothermal energy. There he talked about his thesis on Polish energy self-sufficiency based on the abundant resources of geothermal.
But there is some controversy. Some see funding for geothermal of this magnitude a waste of public funds, so Dr. Michael Wilczynski, a former chief geologist of the country, then vice president of the EcoFund, which financed the geothermal installations in Szaflary, Pyrzyce, Mszczonów and Stargard.
He says that only in a few places in Poland water wells have sufficient temperature (above 60 deg. C), pressure and chemical composition to be used in heating. – But even there it is impossible to build a heating plant without public subsidies, because one borehole It costs even more than 30 million Polish Zloty ($8m). The subsequent operation is also the most expensive, because the water from the ground is usually highly saline, destroying pipes and equipment, clog holes – describes Dr. Michael Wilczynski.
Proponents of the use of heat rocks and water stress that Poland has an extremely rich resources, allowing a thousand times to meet the energy needs of the country. Just invest in the acquisition and will be self-sufficient for centuries.
Chevron Geothermal Seeks Additional Permits for Mount Salak Project
Despite an ongoing sales process, Chevron Geothermal continues its efforts to develop the Mount Salak geothermal project in Indonesia. The company has asked the federal government for additional permits for land use in the conservation area of Mount Salak.
The government is currently conducting the process of issuing permits for land use in the area, that would allow Chevron to access an area that currently lies in protected forest areas.
Through Law No. 21 of 2003 and Regulation No 103/ 2016 and Environment and Forests No. 46 in 2016, the government has allowed the park to use geothermal development.
“Earlier permits excluded areas in the protected forest, but changed regulations can allow permissions for geothermal development based on environmental guidelines, “said Director of Geothermal Energy, Yunus Syaifulhak.
PT Chevron had asked the government to review the rules, which have been an obstacle in the process of exploration of geothermal energy in Indonesia.
Vice President Policy, Government and Public Affairs at Chevron, Yanto Sianipar said there is geothermal potential in areas that have forest conservation zone status.With the prohibition of activity in the national forest, the policy was hampering his project in Salak Mountains.
“The problem is the status of the forest area has actually changed. For example, initially, the forest was protected, but the company could ask for permission to operate. Now the forest has been turned into a national park status. So there is an unclear legal status, which constitutes a hurdle for the company to develop the project.”
How The Synthetic Diamond Industry Is Revolutionizing The Geothermal Energy Market
According to a study published late last year by Transparency International, the synthetic diamond market is anticipated to reach $28.8 billion by 2023 – that’s a CAGR of nearly 7%. Unlike naturally occurring diamonds, synthetic diamonds are prepared by subjecting carbon to High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) conditions or Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) processes that help simulate the natural conditions that contribute to the formation of diamonds.
Given the relative ease with which such diamonds can be manufactured in the laboratory, the cost of these man-made diamonds are simply a fraction of what a natural diamond costs. Today, such diamonds are primarily used in the manufacture of construction and mining equipment and to make devices for the electronics and healthcare market. Also, since the carat, color and cut of the diamonds can be customized, such synthetic diamonds are also a popular choice in the consumer market.
But perhaps one of the less discussed benefits of the growth in synthetic diamonds is its effect on the Geothermal energy market. According to Halliburton, the extreme high temperatures along with the hard and corrosive rocks in the earth’s interior are among the biggest challenges that geothermal energy producers face. These challenges have been typically accentuated by the high cost of diamond-tipped bores required to drill these hard rocks.
A few years back, the US Navy and Sandia National Labs began research on using the polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) technology to build drill-bits that could make the construction of geothermal wells far cheaper than they are at the moment. An MIT research paper predicts that advanced technology could help us grow from the current levels of 10.7 GW (2010) to as much as 100 GW by 2030.
There are two main hurdles along the way. First is the technological ability to drill deeper. The US Department of Energy notes in a vision statement that advanced geothermal development will require us to drill in as much as 30,000 feet deep (5.7 miles). At present, geothermal wells are rarely ever more than 1.9 miles deep. To make this affordable, we will first need to build affordable drilling machines that are harder and capable of penetration. Secondly, we will need to minimize the cost of failure – the cost of drilling bits breakage can be significant.
Cheap synthetic diamonds help fix these challenges. For one, the lower cost of manufacturing make it possible to build larger drill bits that are not prohibitively expensive to manufacture. Also, larger diamond drill bits reduce the chance of failure thus reducing the cost of drilling much further.
Today, most geothermal wells are built over abandoned oil wells that are typically less than 7000 feet in depth. While cost-effective, this is not sustainable and may not be sufficient to meet the MIT study target to reach 100 GW in the next fifteen years. But with cost of drilling likely to come down significantly thanks to the synethic diamond technology, it will not be long before the geothermal energy costs are affordable and make it a viable renewable energy alternative.
Jerry Brown Presses Case for Expanding California’s Power Grid
Gov. Jerry Brown, who last month delayed his proposal to integrate California’s largest electricity grid with other states, on Wednesday acknowledged the political difficulty of such a plan but said a broader grid is necessary to support growing renewable-energy production in the West.
“The efficiency of a wider grid is … unmistakable,” Brown said at a symposium hosted by the state Independent System Operator in Sacramento. “And the imperative is greater efficiency, greater elegance and intelligence in the way we use and produce electricity, in the way we market it, in the way it moves around the system.”
Brown’s remarks came a day before he travels to Los Angeles to sign Senate Bill 32, landmark environmental legislation requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. He will also sign Assembly Bill 197, giving state lawmakers more authority over the California Air Resources Board.
Brown has been seeking for more than a year to expand the influence of California climate policies by integrating California’s Independent System Operator with other states. The fourth-term Democrat called last year for an evaluation of a joint venture between the ISO, which manages electricity transmission in California, and PacifiCorp, a Portland, Ore.-based utility that supplies electricity to customers in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.We’re looking at human tragedy. We’re also looking at huge expenditures.
Proponents said allowing power companies to share electricity across state lines could reduce the number of renewable-energy facilities needed to achieve California’s greenhouse-gas reduction goals.
But Brown told legislative leaders last month that he wanted more time to study the issue. Some environmentalists warned a merger could lend support to PacifiCorp’s coal-fired plants, while other groups raised concerns about ratepayer fees, job impacts and how an integrated system would be governed.
Brown on Wednesday urged energy officials considering a merger to work together across state lines to “make sure that those who love coal and those who love the sun can sit down and work in a totally seamless web of interconnection.”
Brown, a longtime champion of environmental causes, said humanity has a steep “hill to climb if we’re going to be able to prevent the worst consequences of a changing climate.”
Brown said wildfires, drought and tree die-offs provide a “glimpse” of what the world will look like due to a changing climate.
“We’re looking at human tragedy,” he said. “We’re also looking at huge expenditures.”
PLN Plan to Buy PGE Stake Could Harm Geothermal Development: Analyst
State electricity firm PLN’s plan to acquire a stake in Pertamina Geothermal Energy (PGE), a subsidiary of state-owned energy giant Pertamina, could be counterproductive for geothermal development, an energy analyst has said.
Komaidi Notonegoro, executive director of the Jakarta-based research group ReforMiner Institute, said PLN had limited capacity in running a geothermal business which, like the oil and gas industry, requires extensive exploration and exploitation.
“In this case, Pertamina’s readiness in providing infrastructure, such as the rig, for geothermal energy is relatively better than PLN,” Komaidi told The Jakarta Post on Thursday in Jakarta.
He added that the major problem in geothermal development came from the differing perceptions between geothermal power producers and PLN, as the offtaker in pricing policies.
Integrating upstream and downstream geothermal businesses, Komaidi continued, did not answer the problem and could lead to further incorrect conclusions about the importance of PLN acquiring coal producers to develop a coal-powered country.
“Indonesia’s geothermal development cannot be accelerated only by the PGE acquisition,” he said, highlighting that it was the pricing problem in the geothermal industry that must be solved.
PLN is set to buy 50 percent of shares in PGE by the end of 2016 as part of efforts to speed up geothermal power supplies to the firm. With the acquisition, PLN expects to have easier access to geothermal energy and to cut production costs, helping consumers to enjoy more affordable electricity.
Fallon Named Finalist for Enhanced Geothermal Systems Site
Fallon, along with a proposed site in Utah, is one of two locations being considered for an underground laboratory to conduct research on enhanced geothermal systems.
Sandia National Laboratories will work on the Fallon project, which is the Ormat site located south of the Naval Air Station Fallon runway toward Macari Lane. The University of Utah will be working at a site in Milford.
“We’re grateful to see this project continue forward because of the amount of work we invested along with local governments and Sec. Harry Reid’s office,” said Executive Director Rachel Dahl of the Churchill Economic Development Authority.
Dahl said the city of Fallon and especially Mayor Ken Tedford were supportive in the efforts to have Fallon named as a site. The announcement naming the final two sites for consideration is part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The Department of Energy announced last week $29 million in funding under the Frontier Observatory of Research in Geothermal Energy Program.
Dahl said Tedford was very instrumental in ensuring the project was going through the right channels and that Fallon would receive strong consideration.
“It’s exciting the huge investment the DOE is undertaking,” Dahl said.
The Energy Department, with the support of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), awarded funding to these two teams after a competitive first phase of research to evaluate potential EGS underground research sites.
“It is a three-phase project,” Dahl said. “Last year at about this time, we were named a top five finalist, now top two competing against Utah. Not, it will be about another year of research.”
“Enhanced Geothermal Systems can help us tap into a vast energy resource with the potential to generate enough clean energy to power millions of homes,” said Franklin Orr, Under Secretary for Science and Energy. “In supporting this technology, the FORGE program is advancing American leadership in clean energy innovation and could ultimately help us meet our climate and sustainability goals.”
Dahl also said Reid’s office was very helpful during the process. Early in 2015, Dahl said Reid worked with the Navy and several stakeholders to ensure the location of the site did not conflict with Naval Air Station Fallon.
Reid, said Dahl, supported the geothermal energy budget that funds the FORGE project via the appropriations process. With his support, the Obama Administration has been able to significantly expand the geothermal budget
“Nevada will be the perfect location for the Department of Energy’s new Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal (FORGE) laboratory,” Reid said. The nation’s lab for advancing geothermal energy belongs in Nevada and will further establish Nevada as a leader in renewable energy. Enhanced Geothermal Systems are the next frontier in clean energy, and they are an enormous opportunity for the Silver State’s economic growth.
“I thank President Obama and Secretary Moniz for their ongoing commitment to expanding the scale and benefits of geothermal energy across the country.”
Enhanced Geothermal Systems are the means by which resources are accessed from deep beneath the surface of the earth where there are hot rocks ideal for geothermal wells but little naturally occurring liquid to generate steam.
Pumping fluids into the hot rocks creates pathways that carry heat to the earth’s surface through wells where the fluids become steam to drive turbines and generate electricity.
Investing in EGS technologies today could eventually lead to more than 100 gigawatts (GW) of economically viable electric generating capacity in the continental United States, representing an increase of two orders of magnitude over present geothermal capacity, which currently stands at 3.5 GW.
Leading the Way to Abundant Geothermal Energy
A patch of land north of Milford, Utah, is one step closer to becoming the country’s hotbed of research for geothermal energy, clean and renewable electricity generated from hot rocks deep underground.
Joseph Moore from the University of Utah’s Energy & Geoscience Institute leads a team that was one of two research groups selected by he U.S. Department of Energy to establish a multi-million-dollar geothermal field laboratory. Their proposed site is near Milford, Utah, and would be used to conduct research into geothermal technologies.
Joseph Moore from the University of Utah’s Energy & Geoscience Institute leads a team that was one of two research groups selected by he U.S. Department of Energy to establish a multi-million-dollar geothermal field laboratory. Their proposed site is near Milford, Utah, and would be used to conduct research into geothermal technologies.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced that the University of Utah’s Energy & Geoscience Institute (EGI) is one of two research groups selected as finalists to establish a multi-million-dollar geothermal field laboratory to develop techniques for improved recovery of geothermal energy. The other group is the Sandia National Laboratory team, which is promoting a site on the U.S. Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada.
The award is for the Department of Energy’s Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) initiative.
The DOE-funded laboratory involves drilling two 8,000-ft long wells in an area north of Milford, Beaver County, Utah. The project will use an innovative well configuration to create the fractures required to extract heat from the subsurface, heat that can ultimately be converted to electricity. Cold water will be heated by the rocks as it is circulated between the two wells. After the heat is extracted at the surface, the cooled, circulated water will be cycled back into the first well. The laboratory will use non-potable groundwater that cannot be used for agriculture or human consumption.
EGI has been a leader in developing geothermal technologies for more than four decades. The institute is collaborating with faculty members from the University of Utah’s College of Engineering and College of Mines and Earth Sciences, as well as researchers from the Utah Geological Survey, as well as other universities and experts in the geothermal, oil and gas industries. The Utah research team is collaborating with SITLA (State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration) and private landowners to establish the facility within the Milford, Utah, renewable energy corridor, which is already home to two geothermal plants, a wind farm, a solar field and a biogas facility.
“This laboratory will provide a unique opportunity for researchers around the world to develop and test new technologies for accessing geothermal resources in settings where they are not currently recoverable,” said Joseph Moore, an EGI research professor in the College of Engineering’s civil and environmental engineering department who is leading the team. “With technology development, geothermal resources beneath our feet offer the potential to help meet the nation’s energy needs.”
As a finalist, Moore and his team will receive a $14.5 million grant to conduct environmental studies, an analysis of the facilities that will be required, geological, geophysical and geochemical surveys, and the drilling of a well to measure subsurface temperatures. That work will begin Oct. 1.
The journey to determining the final laboratory site is being conducted in three phases. Currently in the second phase, the finalists have been narrowed from five to two.
This exploratory second phase is slated to last 18 months, and Moore expects the DOE to announce the final site in 2018. The final research group is expected to receive more than $130 million for drilling and research.
The Bold and Controversial Plan to Drill Into a Supervolcano
Stefano Carlino descends underground, into a deep pit occupied by what looks like a heavy-duty fire hydrant: a wellhead. Below, unseen, a narrow hole continues about half a kilometre into the Earth’s crust. Carlino, a vulcanologist with Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV), shows me fiberoptic cables flowing down to instruments inside the borehole that measure temperature, seismic activity, and stress. He also points out where tubes emerge from the hole, letting carbon dioxide escape to relieve pressure, and the large, black valve that could be used to close off the borehole in case of emergency.
The short, ruddy 46-year-old climbs a ladder out of the pit and into a temperate Naples afternoon. The borehole is below the site of a decommissioned iron factory, which is overgrown with Mediterranean flora; the scent of the sea is in the air. Carlino, who comes here at least once a week, lowers the metal hatch that covers the pit and gives it an affectionate pat. “My baby,” he says.
For some, the site is not so harmless. This is the pilot borehole of the Campi Flegrei Deep Drilling Project (CFDDP), an ambitious initiative to drill more than three kilometres (10,000ft) into a supervolcano beneath the Gulf of Naples. Campi Flegrei dwarfs Mount Vesuvius, the region’s more famous volcano. It has the power to kill hundreds of thousands of people and even change the planet’s climate.
Drilling into one of the world’s most hazardous geological features might seem dangerous – especially right now, when images of geological destruction from last week’s devastating earthquake in Italy are all too fresh. The scientists behind the project, including Carlino, argue that the real danger is not knowing enough to prepare for an eruption. But others, led by an iconoclastic geochemist named Benedetto De Vivo, fear the drilling could cause a catastrophe. The long-simmering controversy is about something bigger than one project: it’s a debate about how deep science should go when the quest for knowledge is fraught with both risk and reward.
Campi Flegrei (in English, the “Phlegraean Fields”) is a massive caldera, or collapsed volcano, encompassing much of the Gulf of Naples and surrounding coastal area. Calderas are a more insidious type of volcano than “stratovolcanoes” like Vesuvius because they don’t have one, obvious vent or a central peak; instead, a huge magma chamber deep underground feeds features such as cinder cones, craters, and fumaroles across a large area. To make matters worse, when calderas really blow, these are among the most explosive and destructive volcanic eruptions.
Campi Flegrei has had two major eruptions: one approximately 15,000 years ago, known as the Neapolitan Yellow Tuff, and one about 39,000 years ago, called the Campanian Ignimbrite. Both were global events, not only devastating the region but causing climatic changes; temperature drops due to the Campagnian Ignimbrite may have contributed to the extinction of the Neanderthals. Campi Flegrei’s last eruption, in 1538, was a relatively minor one – though it was forceful enough to form a new mountain, the aptly named Monte Nuovo.
In the intervening half-millennium, the volcano has been far from dormant. At INGV’s Vesuvius Observatory, just a few minutes away from the CFDDP’s pilot borehole, staff monitor the activity of Campi Flegrei (and Vesuvius) around the clock. One wall is covered with screens showing shudders of seismic activity around the region; the digital graphs crawl across the monitors like EKG lines. On another side of the room, a satellite map of Campi Flegrei displays the seismic events of the last two years; dozens of dots representing tremors are clustered over the most active area of the caldera. The volcano is ever reminding Neapolitans of its presence.
Perhaps nobody has been reminded more often, and more rudely, than the residents of Pozzuoli. Carlino drives me to the scenic seaside town, located about 15 kilometres (9 miles) west of Naples. Here, dramatic shifts in the ground level over the past 50 years have caused extensive structural damage, and in the most recent episode, from 1982 to 1984, a remarkable “uplift” of two metres (6.5ft) forced around 36,000 residents to evacuate – some never to return. Strolling around Pozzuoli’s Roman harbour, Carlino points out a stone bridge over the harbour’s outlet; when the ground was swelling, he explains, residents knew something was amiss because fishermen had to duck to clear the crossing. Vulcanism continues to be a fact of life for the people of Pozzuoli: only a few weeks before my visit, local schools were evacuated when the town was shaken by a seismic swarm.
During the 1982-84 episode, scientists witnessed uplift such as had not been seen at Campi Flegrei in modern times. An eruption seemed very much at hand. When nothing happened and the ground subsided, it underscored how poor geologists’ understanding of Campi Flegrei was. Thirty years later, the volcano’s plumbing is still something of a mystery. For example, scientists don’t fully understand what exactly is lifting up the ground during uplift: fluids heated by magma (less dangerous) or the magma itself (much more). That’s because right now, geologists’ knowledge is based on data collected at the surface, which offers an incomplete picture. The behaviour of rock under high pressure and temperature can only be observed in artificial lab conditions.
To really understand what’s going on, scientists have to delve underground, according to Christopher Kilburn, director of University College of London’s Aon Benfield Hazard Center, who has been studying Campi Flegrei for three decades.
“For magma to come to the surface, the rock’s got to break and create a passageway for it to get out,” he explains. Vulcanologists currently rely on necessarily approximate experimental and field data to determine whether (and where) the crust might fail and allow magma to escape. But, Kilburn says, “if we can do experiments on the rock that is actually there, and has been affected by fluids and high temperatures and so on, then we can get a better idea of, for instance, how those rocks would respond to an injection of magma.”
Thomas Weisberg, a spokesperson for the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP), puts it more bluntly. “We need to drill,” he says. “We need to go to the area where these processes are taking place, and that’s in the subsurface.”
That was the idea when a group of scientists including Carlino and Kilburn proposed the Campi Flegrei Deep Drilling Project back in 2008. The scientists sought to drill an approximately 3.5-kilometre-long (2.2 mile), diagonal borehole from the site at the former iron plant to below the centre of the Gulf of Napoli, extracting samples from the subsurface and installing thermometers, seismometers, and stress meters at great depth.
Deep drilling is a technically challenging and enormously expensive proposition. Consider that at this moment, as the Voyager 1 spacecraft hurtles through interstellar space more than 20 billion kilometres (12 billion miles) from Earth, humans still have not explored farther than 12.2 kilometres (7.6 miles) below the planet’s surface. We’ve been impeded not only by extreme temperatures – as hot as 870C (1600F) – and intense pressure, but also man-made barriers. In the 1960s, American scientists backed by the National Science Foundation aimed to reach the Earth’s mantle in an initiative called Project Mohole. Starting from the ocean floor, the scientists were only able to drill around 183 metres (600ft) into the oceanic crust before Congress (led, as it happens, by a young congressman named Donald Rumsfeld) balked at the cost of the project and cut off funding in 1966.
Four years later, the Soviets entered this intraterrestrial space race with the Kola Superdeep Borehole. It took them nearly two decades, but they ultimately managed to drill 12,262 metres (40,230ft) into the crust – a record that still stands. Drilling had to be halted in 1992 when scientists encountered much higher-than-expected temperatures of approximately 180C (356F).
Today, our best hope for advancing Earth’s final frontier is Chikyu, a state-of-the-art Japanese drilling ship. The vessel drilled more than two kilometres (1.2 miles) into the ocean floor in 2012, setting a record for the deepest undersea borehole drilled for scientific purposes. (The deepest drilled for non-scientific purposes? The one beneath the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon oil rig.) A team of scientists is hoping to use the ship to finally reach the mantle in the early 2020s, but the logistical difficulties and projected cost – more than $1 billion – are daunting.
Despite the challenges, various drilling projects probing shallower depths are underway worldwide. The Campi Flegrei Deep Drilling Project was supposed to be one of these efforts – but the project had hardly been okayed when it was knocked off course by a media storm. On October 6, 2010, less than a year after the project’s approval, the Naples daily newspaper Il Mattino ran a front-page story under the headline, “If you touch the volcano Naples will explode.” The article relied on the claims of Benedetto De Vivo, a professor at the University of Naples Federico II, who warned that deep drilling in Campi Flegrei could cause an explosion, earthquakes, or even an eruption. With the city atwitter, the then-mayor of Naples, Rosa Russo Iervolino, put the project on hold, saying Italy’s emergency-management agency, Protezione Civile, needed to review it for safety.
This only set in motion a “silly loop,” Carlino tells me: Protezione Civile simply deferred back to his organisation, as it normally does for volcano insights. Carlino and I are on the way back from Pozzuoli; we pull into an overlook to take in a view of the gulf (and, I suspect, so Carlino can smoke a cigarette). “Our project was evaluated by a committee of the most important and experienced scientists in the field of vulcanology and scientific drilling,” Carlino says, pinching tobacco into a rolling paper. “We are sure that there is no risk for the population.” De Vivo, he continues, does not specialise in scientific drilling, and based his claims in Il Mattinoon evidence from categorically different, non-scientific drilling sites.
When I email De Vivo to get his side of the story, the professor doesn’t mince words: “Very happily I will answer your questions about the stupid idea of making a deep borehole in Campi Flegrei,” he writes back. Over a Skype connection (he’s in China for a mineralogy conference while I’m in Italy), the geochemist argues that drilling at Campi Flegrei could cause a “hydrothermal explosion” if drilling equipment were to encounter superheated fluid underground. He cites Indonesia’s ongoing Sidoarjo mud flow, which may have been triggered by a blowout at a natural gas well.
More theoretically, De Vivo contends that an explosion has the potential to cause a catastrophic chain reaction. “If you have a hydrothermal explosion, this fluid is coming out,” he says. “Then you release the pressure, and magma, which is sitting below – it could generate a magmatic eruption.”
The probability of this scenario is low, De Vivo allows. But in an area populated by millions, he says, it’s not low enough. He is a follower of the precautionary principle – “if science is not certain of a certain activity, that activity must not be done”.
“Scientists,” he says, “should say what the degree of our knowledge is, but mostly, we should communicate to the people what is the degree of our ignorance – which is quite high, when it comes to natural systems.”
Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo agrees. A Vesuvius Observatory volcanologist who has spent the last quarter-century studying the mechanisms of past Campi Flegrei eruptions, he characterises the area as especially volatile and unpredictable.
“Nobody can say, ‘we have about a 50% risk of a phreatic explosion, a 10% risk of an eruption, a 90% risk of seismic crisis.’ If you cannot give this percentage, you don’t know the system,” says Mastrolorenzo. “If we are not able to make provisions, we must assume the precautionary principle.”
I ask De Vivo: isn’t there also a risk associated with not drilling, considering how in the dark Neapolitans are when it comes to the volcanic danger lurking below? He dismisses the idea. There are many less dangerous ways for scientists to shed light on the subterranean workings of Campi Flegrei, he says, including looking at boreholes drilled for geothermal purposes in the 1970s.
“I’m not, let’s say, selling my property because of the possibility of an eruption,” says De Vivo, who lives in the Campi Flegrei area. “This eruption can happen tomorrow, or it can happen in 3,000 years. But I certainly wouldn’t do anything to help nature to do something that we don’t want.”
About a year after the Campi Flegrei project was suspended, a new mayor, Luigi de Magistris, was elected in Naples, and again gave the drilling a green light. But by then, it was too late: the funding and equipment had been redistributed elsewhere. The INGV was able to drill a pilot borehole, which Carlino says has already yielded significant findings. But the remaining 3 kilometres the agency had hoped to drill are as yet unplumbed. To complete the project, the INGV needs to raise an estimated $6 million to $8 million – and make sure that the next time around, the public is on its side.
“I think slowly, in the popular mind, the project does not seem to be quite as threatening as the impression given right at the beginning,” says University College London’s Kilburn, who is a co-lead of the Campi Flegrei project. If and when the project is revived, Neapolitans will need to decide which scientific philosophy they’ll follow: the risk calculation of Kilburn and colleagues, or the precautionary principle of those such as De Vivo.
Indeed, this seemingly abstract choice is becoming ever more relevant to all of us as humans’ ability to alter our environment increases – and potential risks increase with it.
“If someone says, ‘you have to guarantee, 100%, that nothing will go wrong,’ well, you can’t do that,” says Kilburn of the drilling project. “But that’s not because you’re worried something will go wrong. It’s just that nature is such that it is.”
Growing up in Naples, Carlino had a view of Mount Vesuvius from the balcony of his childhood home. “Each day when I woke up, I saw Vesuvio, and I was fascinated by this volcano,” he recalls. Today, the volcanologist is at peace with his decision to remain in a region where geological catastrophe always looms. He points to the trade-offs: like many Neapolitans, he has family roots here, and the area’s volcanic activity is what gives it its spectacular dynamism: peaks and craters, islands and hot springs. “I think it’s beautiful to live beneath volcanoes,” Carlino says.
Few have considered the pros and cons as consciously as he has. Indeed, because there hasn’t been a display of volcanoes’ awesome destructive power near Naples since Vesuvius erupted in 1944, Neapolitans don’t give the inherent dangers of their hometown much thought. “People’s perception of the possibility [of an eruption] is very low,” says Carlino.
This, it seems, is human nature: out of sight, out of mind. It’s also something that I can identify with. I live and work in the Pacific Northwest, which is overdue for an earthquake expected to devastate the region. No-one alive there today has experienced significant tremors for hundreds of years, so many Northwesterners are ill-informed and ill-prepared for the inevitable incident. Last summer, when the New Yorker published a story about the Northwest superquake, it went viral among the region’s residents. I swore to upgrade my inadequate emergency kit, and I meant it. It’s still on my to-do list.
In Naples, the media-fanned controversy over the drilling project momentarily sharpened the ambient danger of living between two volcanoes. When the project went away, the tough questions of inhabiting this beautiful, ferocious place remained. But Neapolitans, as people do, got on with the business of living: on nights when SSC Napoli plays, cafes overflow with demonstrative fans. Clustered around scooters and smoking cigarettes, young people fill the student hangout of Piazza Bellini. Tourists stroll the Lungomare seaside promenade, unknowingly tracing the rough contours of a supervolcano.
On one of my last days in Naples, I catch a bus to the top of Vesuvius, where I find the crater, maw of historic devastation, innocuously smoking. There would be a spectacular view from up here, but the peak is entirely enshrouded, allowing only glimpses of the city through gaps in the clouds; it looks lovely and small. I’m about to head back to the bus when thunder, until now distant-sounding, peals out. It starts to hail, the ice pellets falling fast and hard.
Lightning flashes in the clouds. As I trot down the trail, my heart is racing. I know that the probability of me being hit by lightning is very low. But how much, I wonder, have I increased that probability by being at the highest point in the area during a storm? Should I have checked the weather on my smartphone before coming up here? Or avoided the situation entirely? The variables in this calculus of risk multiply, unsolved and unsolvable, and for a moment I truly understand what it means to live atop a supervolcano, or awaiting a superquake. But all I can do now is pull the hood of my raincoat over my head and try to get out of nature’s way.
Geothermal Bill on its Way to Governor’s Desk
San Diego, CA… State Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) announced today that Senate Bill 1074 has made its way to the Governor’s desk. This bill helps existing geothermal plants operating in disadvantaged communities by funding innovative minerals extraction techniques at those facilities has made its way to the Governor’s desk.
“It is in the state’s best interest to fund select projects for mineral extraction from geothermal brines,” stated Senator Hueso. “This has the potential of putting the Salton Sea at the center of the map for big companies like Tesla which rely on lithium as part of their electric battery production. More business means more jobs and this is great and exciting news for Imperial County.”
Senate Bill 1074 specifically expands the eligible uses of monies in the Geothermal Resources Development Account (GRDA) to include projects to recover lithium, metals, agricultural products, and other beneficial minerals from highly mineralized geothermal brines at an existing geothermal facility that is in a disadvantaged community and provides local employment opportunities.
The geothermal brine produced by the Salton Sea geothermal resources is highly mineralized and corrosive. Extraction of these minerals from the brine is one of the most significant costs of the geothermal development in the Salton Sea. The state has the potential to help commercialize domestic mineral mining from geothermal brine, which will produce lithium and manganese dioxide necessary for electric battery manufacturing, thereby transforming an economic cost into an economic benefit.
Under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA), the federal government awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to CEC to administer a variety of innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. At the close of the ARRA program, in 2013, there remained $13 million in unallocated ARRA funds available to CEC for energy-related projects. In addition, CEC continues to receive repayments from loans made from ARRA monies-about $2.5 million per year. This bill provides CEC the authority to continue to use the remaining ARRA funds for additional, innovative energy-efficiency projects that will help California achieve it energy and environmental goals.
Governor Brown has until Friday, September 30, 2016 to sign or veto this measure.
Could the ‘Most Powerful Geothermal Reservoirs in the World’ Save the Colorado River?
President Obama made a historic announcement Wednesday, saying that the federal government is considering investing in the geothermal power in the rock formations under the Salton Sea in Southern California. Considered to be “the most powerful geothermal reservoirs in the world,” the Salton Sea announcement could play a critical role in the future management of the Colorado River.
Fifty years ago, Glen Canyon Dam was built above the Grand Canyon, and the Colorado River was enslaved to generate electricity to feed the hunger of the booming southwestern cities and suburbs. The Colorado’s pulsing flows had carved and nourished the Grand Canyon for millennium, but that came to a crashing halt when the gates were closed and the water was ponded in Lake Powell. The environmental damage and steady decline of one of our nation’s crown jewels has led to many calls for restoration of the natural system through the removal of Glen Canyon Dam.
The dam’s ability to provide power has shielded it from any serious attempt to bring it down. Times change though and, over the last 16 years, the historic drought in the Southwest U.S. has drained Lake Powell to historic lows, severely diminishing the potential to generate hydroelectricity from the massive turbines encased in Glen Canyon Dam. Water and electricity managers are scrambling to come up with a plan to prop up the lake above what’s called “power pool” so they can continue to generate and sell power. Any such solution is, however, clearly a stop-gap measure to keep the dam operational and is doomed to fail when confronted by the realities of climate change.
Fortunately, Obama’s announcement offers a true path to the future.
The Salton Sea announcement could create an opportunity to replace the hydroelectric power generated at Glen Canyon Dam and a path forward to restoring the Grand Canyon. The geothermal reservoirs under the Salton Sea are an untapped resource that could add power to the grid as Lake Powell is slowly drained and Glen Canyon Dam is removed. Lake Powell’s water could be put into Lake Mead, its downstream sister, thus keeping one fully functioning hydroelectric facility on the grid. Further, this “geo-hydro power trade” could keep the federal government solvent in its current financial contracts to provide electricity to the Southwest U.S.
Climate change scientists have painted a bullseye on the Southwest U.S. and the Colorado River, indicating the area will become warmer and dryer with even less flow in the Colorado River. Hydroelectricity is threatened at both Lakes Powell and Mead, as well as reservoirs in California. Salton Sea geothermal power could be a breakthrough in building a climate change-resistant Southwest while also preserving and restoring the lifeblood of the region-the Colorado River.
Berkeley Lab Continues to FORGE its Way with $29 Million Investment in Enhanced Geothermal Systems Efforts
As part of the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to the President’s Climate Action Plan, the Department of Energy announced, on August 31st, $29 million in funding under the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) program for projects awarded to teams at Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia) and the University of Utah. The funding will be for each team to fully instrument, characterize and permit candidate sites for an underground laboratory to conduct cutting-edge research on enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). The Sandia team will be working on a site in Fallon, Nevada, and the University of Utah team will be working at a site in Milford, Utah. The announcement kicks off Phase 2 (1-2 years duration) of the program.
Berkeley Lab (LBNL) will join Sandia (the team lead), the University of Nevada at Reno, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Navy Geothermal Program Office, Ormat Technologies Inc., GeothermEx/Schlumberger, and Itasca Consulting Group. The Fallon FORGE Team will begin to prepare the site, located adjacent to the Naval Air Station Fallon starting with environmental studies and preliminary seismic monitoring then to full readiness for testing, data system development, and further characterization.
Mack Kennedy, a staff scientist in the Energy Geosciences Division is the lead point of contact for the LBNL aspect of FORGE. Contributors to date include Kennedy, Ernie Majer, Drew Siler, Pat Dobson, and Eric Sonnenthal. Moving into Phase 2, LBNL will provide expertise from the Energy Geosciences Division core capabilities in subsurface geophysics, hydrogeology, reservoir modeling, and geochemistry.
FORGE is intended to be a dedicated scientific-community facility that will advance subsurface energy science, with a particular focus on geothermal technologies. At this site, scientists and engineers will be able to develop, test, and accelerate breakthroughs in EGS technologies and techniques. Geothermal energy is a clean, consistent, alternative source of power for the American energy consumer. Studying EGS could eventually lead to more than 100 gigawatts (GW) of economically viable electric generating capacity in the continental United States, representing an increase of two orders of magnitude over present geothermal capacity, which currently stands at 3.5 GW.
Letter: Koch’s Geothermal System Isn’t the Standard
Geothermal systems need not draw on the public water supply
The Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization would like to clarify a point in Newsday’s article “Program aims to curb East End water use” [News, Aug. 17], and Michael Dobie’s Aug. 20 item from The Point newsletter , “The most quenched L.I. lawn of them all.”
Both quote an inaccurate statement made by a David Koch spokeswoman that increased water usage is required for his geothermal system, and that’s the reason for his high water use. Koch’s system uses public drinking water for his open loop geothermal system. This is not the standard approach recommended by our organization and others in the geothermal industry. It’s unnecessary and increases the demand on the public water supply.
Standard practice is to use groundwater pumped from on-site supply wells, not public water. The same water is then returned to the aquifer through separate return wells after exchanging heat with the heat pumps.
The cost of drilling on-site wells to replace the use of public water could be recouped quickly by avoiding the high price of paying for public water.
That a billionaire who made his fortune in part from fossil fuels has a geothermal system for his home is a testimony to the merits of geothermal heating and cooling.
John Rhyner and John Franceschina, Bohemia
Editor’s note: The writers are board members of the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization, a nonprofit that promotes geothermal heating and cooling.