Google-Backed Startup Struggling to Tap Geysers

Only 800 feet of progress made so far in AltaRock's quest to produce geothermal energy

By Jackson West
|  Thursday, Aug 20, 2009  |  Updated 2:15 PM PDT
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Google-Backed Startup Struggling to Tap Geysers

Andrew Madden

While the land around the geysers may be soft mud, AltaRock is finding it difficult to drill down to the sweet heat below.

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AltaRock Energy's well-funded venture to tap into geothermal energy more than two miles below the surface has run aground with delays caused by broken drill bits.

The company is drilling into a the Geysers near Shasta County, but has only reached a depth of 4,000 feet, only 800 feet deeper than the hole already there.

The project, funded with over $36 million from Google, venture capital firms and the federal government has proven controversial because of its similarity to an attempt in Basel, Switzerland that generated earthquakes.

The project promises is inexpensive, renewable electricity, and involves fracturing rocks under the earth's crust and running water into the hot mess to create steam and drive a turbine.

The company claims that any earthquakes would be negligible, but that hasn't stopped the Energy Department from investigating the claim.

Photo by Andrew Madden.

Jackson West has a bad feeling this won't end well.

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