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In the continuing effort to tap on geothermal energy for electricity, engineers are trying to tap on the power of a dormant volcano. In this project, planned for commencement in mid summer 2012, the Newberry Volcano in Bend, Oregon, will be harnessed for energy by pumping 24 million gallons of water into the side of the volcano. At the right depth, the water will come in contact with hot, magma-heated rocks. The super-heated and pressurized water will then be returned to the surface to drive turbines to generate electricity.

This project makes use of a technology called the Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS). Deep wells are drilled into the magma-heated rock and then cold water is pumped in. This creates tiny fractures in the rock in a process known as hydroshearing. In the previous process of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, hundreds of chemicals are mixed with the hydraulic fluid which are pumped into the wells. According to experts, the fracking process creates much larger fractures in the rock, leading to earthquakes. Hydroshearing is supposed to eliminate this possibility. However, the EGS power plant in Basel, Switzerland, was shut down in Dec 2009 Dec. 10, 2009, after a government study determined that the project was responsible for an earthquake on 8 Dec 2006 and were likely cause more earthquakes later.

According to the US Geologic Survey, the danger of a major quake at Newberry Volcano is very low. The area is described by geologists as a “seismic dead zone” with no significant faults. With , many layers of built-up volcanic ash that lay atop the magna-heated rocks, any shaking caused by the network of fractures, should be dampened.

It remains to be seen whether this geothermal energy project will be viable or become the latest negative example in the controversy surrounding geothermal energy exploitation.