The Newberry Volcano Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/14/geothermal-newberry-volcano_n_1206867.html
I’ve kept up with a lot of the media about hydraulic fracturing, which has not been received well and continually gets bad/misinformed press (mostly from the environmental side). After taking a natural gas engineering course last semester and now starting out in a hydraulic fracturing design class, I think I could say that I have fairly good judgement on what has been blown out of proportion or presented falsely. That brings me to this article. There are a number of articles on the Newberry Volcano which are almost identical to this one, so I figured it didn’t matter too much which one I chose. The title caught my eye, and when I first started to read it, I had no idea that it was tied to hydraulic fracturing. The main thing I noticed was that the process that is used to capture this geothermal energy uses “hydroshearing” which they say is similar to hydraulic fracturing, but not the same. Some other articles go as far to say that they are completely different.
They are still pumping millions of gallons of water down to fracture the rock and using proppant to hold the rock open, allowing for (in this case) water vapor to escape. They say the difference between the two is that hydraulic fracturing uses “chemical-laden fluids”, which implies that hydroshearing does not. The chemicals in the hydraulic fracturing fluids (which usually make up less than 2% of total fluid volume) are added to ensure proper distribution of fluid in the fractures and more even proppant settling. Others are added based on the type of rock that is being fractured and the potential chemical interactions between the fluid and rock. Seems to me that similar amounts of chemicals would need to be added to the water used in hydroshearing that take in account rock chemistry and that ensure proper proppant settling. But they don’t say this. They want to distance the two processes as much as possible because hydraulic fracturing has been bashed for its environmental effects. I would say that hydroshearing poses the same threats (which, to mention, is really only from damaged well casings that protect water aquifers. The same problems would exist when drilling for oil, not just natural gas and not just hydraulic fracturing). There would also be the issue of treating the flowback water before re-injection (not to mention the amount of water usage to begin with, which is another slam point for hydraulic fracturing). Still, they want to avoid the connection between hydraulic fracturing and hydroshearing because they want this new process to seem more “green” and environmentally friendly. Hence the new name.
Outside of my view on how the media presents hydroshearing vs hydraulic fracturing, I actually think that using Enhanced Geothermal Systems and tapping that source of energy is a neat idea. It’s like what Dr. Webber said though – it won’t solve our energy problems or provide enough to offset other sources of energy, but its definitely a start.