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January 25, 2022 • 06:19 PM

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Al Gore Pivots to the Bottom Line Print
By CFIF Staff
Thursday, February 18 2010
Just as the world now knows we must beware the global warming prophets of doom, so must we beware the “green” prophets of clean, cheap energy panaceas, of which geothermal is but one.

Buried near the bottom of last Sunday’s Dana Milbank Washington Post piece titled “Global warming’s snowball fight,” there is this snippet:  “Al Gore, for one, seems to realize it’s time for a new tactic.  New TV ads released during last week’s blizzards by Gore’s climate advocacy group say nothing about climate science.  They show workers asking their senators for more jobs from clean energy.”

They would, wouldn’t they?  Along with selling the world a scientific shuck to win a Nobel Prize, Gore has himself invested in “green” technology as a partner in venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (among other Gore investment enterprises).

At least one of those projects hasn’t gone so well, for Gore or the environment.

AltaRock Energy sought to produce geothermal energy in California, on leased federal land, partially financed by the Obama administration’s Department of Energy, to the tune of $6 million.  In December, the company abandoned the project because, gee, they just kept breaking their drill bits.

But there is another issue:  earthquakes.  The area where the drilling was taking place – called the Geysers – is particularly prone to earthquakes, some 360 in 2009 alone and growing, according to Elizabeth Larson in the local Lake County NewsSome geothermal energy is already produced at the Geysers, concerning nearby residents, some who remember days before geothermal...and almost daily tremors.

One local resident, who has monitored seismic activity in the area, told Larson (before the AltaRock project was shut down) that, “the community isn’t against geothermal, but they feel AltaRock’s project was rushed through a less-than-transparent process, that the company wasn’t upfront about the problems inherent in EGS [enhanced geothermal systems] technology and that they ignored critical seismic data in their environmental assessment.  ‘It doesn’t feel like a real honest process,’ he said.”

The timing of the AltaRock Geysers shutdown, in early December last year, was strangely coincidental, to say the least.  It came one day after another such geothermal project in Basel, Switzerland was officially halted for good by the Swiss government, following a series of earthquakes blamed on the project that caused serious property damage in 2006 and 2007.  That disaster even produced charges against and a trial for the project’s lead geologist,  although he was subsequently acquitted.

There is relatively little in the public record about the AltaRock Geysers project.  Larson locally and James Glantz of The New York Times nationally have produced the most in-depth reporting.  The work of both, however, invite serious unanswered questions, about the AltaRock project specifically and about geothermal energy production generally.

In theory, geothermal energy production is immensely appealing, touted by President Obama and his friends at Google (which also invested in AltaRock) as an almost endless supply of cheap energy, and it is ever so environmentally friendly, in theory.

Drill down.  Sink some pipe, and pipe up hot water or steam from the earth, which can be used directly for smaller applications and to drive turbines for larger applications.  The deeper you go, the more you get, in volume and in temperature. In some applications, cold water is pumped down through dry, hot rock and back up as hot water. That’s overly simplistic, granted, but crudely outlines the fundamental principles.

But drilling, particularly down into hard rock, cracks the earth.  Cracks in the earth produce earthquakes, shallow drilling less, deeper drilling more, exacerbated by existing fault lines.  The Basel, Switzerland and AltaRock Geysers projects were deep-drilling applications.

The quakes caused by the Basel project were known before the AltaRock project began.  Here’s James Glantz in The Times, from June, 2009:  “But in a report on seismic impact that AltaRock was required to file, the company failed to mention that the Basel program was shut down because of the earthquake it caused.  AltaRock claimed it was uncertain that the project had caused the quake, even though Swiss government seismologists and officials on the Basel project agreed that it did.  Nor did AltaRock mention the thousands of smaller earthquakes induced by the Basel project that continued for months after it shut down.”

That sure sounds like one of those “inconvenient truths” Al Gore likes to berate us about, unless it’s inconvenient for one of his “green investments,” it would seem.

Environmentalists are quick to decry almost all drilling for conventional energy resources, with techniques that have been used and used and used and are constantly improving, with regard to safety.  Drilling for geothermal energy should be far more unsettling, if only because of the now-known dangers and unknown complications it presents.

President Obama wants geothermal energy.  Al Gore and Kleiner Perkins and Google and others want the profits from geothermal energy.  But just as the world now knows we must beware the global warming prophets of doom, so must we beware the “green” prophets of clean, cheap energy panaceas, of which geothermal is but one.

President Obama’s Department of Energy has pumped a reported $300 million into a variety of geothermal projects.  Who’s watching all those?  Who’s watching another AltaRock project in Oregon, which is reported to have received $25 million of that government money?  And who’s watching Al Gore’s shift to the bottom line, complete with government subsidies?  

Quiz Question   
In addition to fuel, how many products are made from oil and natural gas?
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