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Planet Earth

Geothermal Explosion Highlights a Downside of a Leading Alt-Energy Source

80beatsBy Eliza StricklandApril 28, 2009 11:05 PM
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A leading geothermal company has been rocked by an explosion from a well drilled deep into the earth, which was part of a system that converts the heat from buried rocks into clean, green energy. On Friday evening at the South Australian test site, a burst of pressurized water and steam blew through the well "cellar," the 22-foot deep concrete structure set in the ground through which the deeper well is drilled. In geothermal energy systems, wells are drilled two or three miles deep and water is circulated past the hot rocks at that depth to collect heat; the resulting steam is then used to run turbines in a power plant.

Geodynamics, the Brisbane-based company that operates the South Australia well, is widely tipped as being closest to making the technology cost effective. Geodynamics holds the rights to a potential power supply of up to 10 gigawatts trapped in a 1000-square kilometre slab of hot granite deep under the town of Innamincka in South Australia [New Scientist].

But this accident is an embarrassment for the cutting-edge company. No one was injured by the blast, but the company was forced to suspend work on its first demonstration power plant, and a nearby highway was diverted. Geodynamics' managing director, Gerry Grove-White, prefers not to call the incident an explosion.

"There was no explosion. This was a leak from somewhere that then burst through into the cellar [of the well] and then there was just steam and water, which continues to flow at a fairly steady rate," he said [Australia Broadcasting Corporation].

As of yesterday, water and steam were still spewing from the well. The exact causes of the incident are still unclear. Grove-White

said well experts had arrived from the US and were trying to control the leak, which was being diverted into a nearby quarry. He said it had sprung from a "very, very extensive" reservoir [Brisbane Times].

The company's stock price dropped precipitously following reports of the accident. Stephen Bartrop of the Sydney-based analysts Stock Resource says the

incident highlights “the risk in this project and geothermal projects in general” [Bloomberg].

Related Content: 80beats: Drillers Tap Into a 1000-Degree Magma Chamber by Accident 80beats: Google Invests in Energy From Hot Rocks Deep Underground DISCOVER: The Great Forgotten Clean-Energy Source: GeothermalImage: Geodynamics

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