AltaRock suspends test project

On 2 Sep 2009, geothermal startup AltaRock Energy said it has suspended drilling at its demonstration project in California due to geologic anomalies. The startup said it encountered a number of physical difficulties at the site while drilling its first well.

However, the company said it will keep developing its engineered geothermal systems (EGS) technology and is evaluating alternative well locations, both at the Geysers, a site north of San Francisco, and elsewhere. The news comes as a blow to AltaRock’s demonstration project, which is backed by $6.24 million in funds from the U.S. Department of Energy, with the possibility of $2.76 million more.

In 2008, AltaRock raised $26.25 million from Google.org (which contributed $6.25 million), Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Advanced Technology Ventures and Vulcan Capital.

Cleantech Group reports “Today’s problem isn’t the first controversy to stem from the project. In June, The New York Times raised questions about the Geysers project, comparing it to an effort in Basel, Switzerland, that some scientists say caused a large earthquake, followed by thousands of small quakes. Both projects aimed to fracture rock deep underground to generate steam, but AltaRock disputes the similarities of the projects.”

After the New York Times report, the DOE and Bureau of Land Management informed AltraRock that it would not be allowed to fracture rock until the department completed a new review of whether the project would be safe. The company was allowed to keep drilling, however, down toward the depth at which it would begin the fracturing. The review, which likely to be released within few weeks, is expected to compare the Basel and California projects and determine whether AltraRock’s effort is safe.

Sources:
AltaRock suspends drilling at DOE-backed project
Google-backed geothermal company suspends test project

See the New York Times reports:
Deep in Bedrock, Clean Energy and Quake Fears
Drilling Ordeals Said to Delay Geothermal Project

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