Google Plans Drill Deep Into Earthquake Fears

Search engine-backed company sets off temblor of anxiety in Northern California

By Jackson West
|  Thursday, Jun 25, 2009  |  Updated 1:45 PM PDT
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Google Plans Drill Deep Into Earthquake Fears

futureatlas.com / Flickr

Geothermal plants like this one in Iceland require deep drilling -- a potentially risky proposition in fault-riddled California.

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Sausalito-based AltaRock energy is looking to use cash invested by Google to tap into underground heat searching for renewable power -- but have set off the public safety seismograph in the process.

In northern California, on the border between Sonoma and Lake counties, natural geysers point the way to a potentially reliable, cheap source of electricity.

The only problem: The system intended to exploit that power source involves cracking and cooling rocks deep below the earth's crust, and has been known to cause earthquakes.

A similar project in Basel, Switzerland was cut short after it set off a 3.4 shock on the Richter scale in 2006. And the quakes kept coming, with three more shocks nearly as powerful over the next year.

AltaRock's project has already set off minor quakes. But with fault lines criss-crossing California like cracks on an ice-covered lake, a mistake could prove catastrophic.

Notably, in its required analysis of potential seismic impact, AltaRock engineers failed to mention the incident in Switzerland.

Photo by Flickr user futureatlas.com.

Jackson West wonders what will happen when farmers, fisherman and residents find out the project will need lots of fresh water, too.

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