Volcano power plan gets U.S. go-ahead

Oct. 3, 2012 at 5:59 PM

SEATTLE, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- A Seattle company says it plans to begin a project intended to exploit an untapped source of clean geothermal energy -- a dormant Oregon volcano.

AltaRock Energy says it has secured permission from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to start injecting water into a series of connected cracks almost 2 miles below Oregon's Newberry volcano, NewScientist.com reported Wednesday.

Once heated deep beneath the volcano, the water will be returned to the surface as steam to drive turbines and generate electricity, the company said.

Such power projects usually utilize naturally convecting hot water below the surface, but most geothermal energy is stored in impermeable hot rocks, so the Newberry project is intended to exploit such rocks by fracturing them with pressurized water to increase their permeability enough to support geothermal operations.

The Newberry volcano was chosen because rocks get hotter with depth at a much faster rate in such regions than in non-volcanic areas.

The BLM granted permission for the project's testing phase, which should be complete by 2014, only after independent studies indicated it did not risk triggering earthquakes near the volcano or contaminating groundwater, NewScientist.com reported.

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