Submitted by Nathan ‘Jolly’ Green
An aspect that should get people asking questions is whether drilling into areas of active magmatism might cause volcanism.
That controversy was sparked in the Philippines when 20 earthquakes were felt soon after drilling for a new geothermal prospect on Canlaon Volcano. A congressional enquiry has been suggested, an inquiry into the tremors and their relation to the drilling and Canlaon. This would be a serious issue as Canloan (the volcano) is close to Canlaon City (population ~50,000).
This is not a new accusation in the Philippines either, as the Aetas believed that drilling caused the 1991 eruption of Pinatubo.
Drilling is the most likely cause of the infamous “mud volcano” in Indonesia, but that is related to the water and heat rather than magma’s new movements. It must be easy to link geothermal drilling to any increase in “restlessness” at any volcano nearby, but there is no hard evidence that drilling can have such a direct effect on volcanism.
Because there is no evidence that drilling can cause a volcanic reaction does not mean that such actions cannot cause an eruption. Of course, drilling companies will never repeat such beliefs; they would be more likely to suppress those mutterings.
Nature being what it is, anything is possible when you interfere or tamper with it.
It is instructive to briefly look at the close spatial association between volcanoes, eruptions, and geothermal development as a means of justification. Active or potentially active volcanoes are often targeted in the search for high-temperature geothermal resources. One specific example of an existing geothermal installation at an active volcano is the 22 MW Momotombo geothermal relatively small eruptions, interspersed with occasional, considerable explosive activity. The most recent eruption at Momotombo was in 1905, when lava flowed down from the summit crater to the volcano’s NE base (Siebert & Simkin, 2002-).
There appears to be some correlation between geothermal development and Holocene eruptions; concern for the potential impacts of future volcanic eruptions on geothermal installations is warranted and should be extensively studied. As more geothermal development occurs near potentially active volcanoes, the chances of significant eruption will only increase.
In Iceland, on September 8, 1977, magma moving through a subterranean dike intersected a geothermal borehole at the Námafjall geothermal field in Iceland (Larsen et al., 1979). Three tons of magma erupted through an 1138 m deep borehole in 20 minutes, leaving a deposit of 968 tons of volcanic scoria and ash on the land surface around the well. The Námafjall geothermal field is located on Krafla caldera’s flank, which experienced a major volcanic rifting episode with associated faulting and magma intrusion since December 1975.
There are all sorts of stories regarding the volcanic eruption in Saint Vincent. Some say that the wells drilled for the geothermal project were on the island’s wrong part. The drilling took place there because ULP politics were in play, advice had been to drill elsewhere, but multimillion expensive drilling nevertheless was ordered and went ahead.
Drilling of the first well SVG01 lasted from April 30, 2019, to July 27, 2019, 89 days to a depth of 2,700 meters. With challenges due to the unstable formation in the well, it was necessary to correct the well’s inclination, which then collapsed at a depth of 1,889 meters. The total cost of drilling this well was $7.7 million, and a temperature of 155 degrees Celsius was measured at a depth of 1,880 meters. The project team announced there was still the possibility of successfully drilling a side-track from 1,800 to 2,700 meters and additional stimulation.
The second well, SVG03, was drilled between August 7, 2019, and October 29, 2019, including seven days of stimulation to a depth of 2,283 meters (total length 2,800 meters). The well collapsed at a depth of 1,627 meters and a side-track from 1,160 meters. The total cost of the well was $7.6 million. The well’s temperature was 220 degrees Celsius at a depth of 2,800 meters with though low permeability. They announced the well testing was outstanding, but they planned to continue stimulation to increase flow capacity.
Drilling for the third well, SVG02, began on November 4, 2019, and ended on January 15, 2020, including 19 days’ stimulation. The depth of the well is 2,990 meters (2,869 vertical depth). The drilling cost was $5.6 million with a temperature of 230 to 250 degrees Celsius. They announced this well would have to be stimulated.
Side-tracking the first well, SVG01 was next on the agenda with stimulation using a downhole packer to seal the downhole at 1,700 meters. The same was then tried to SVG03.
It was expected that testing would be concluded around July 2020; at that time, estimates could be made about the wells’ possible capacity for power generation.
In August 2020, Ellsworth Dacon, the Vincentian Project Director of the project, told local news. “The results weren’t as expected. We got permeability, but not sufficient enough for it to be commercially viable.” “While there is undoubtedly a geothermal source at Bamboo Range, the inadequacy of the permeability of the rocks means that the heat cannot pass through the rocks at the needed rate.” Dacon went on to say, “We are looking at some closed-loop systems and speaking to three companies, so we will see how it goes.”
In real quick time, the Icelandic company packed up and pulled out of SVG. The geothermal project on St. Vincent & the Grenadines spent over US$ 35 million since the start in 2012, with around US$700k from the Vincentian government, US$ 29 million in grant funding, and $7 million in funding from private equity.
Drilling equipment was hastily moved from the site and shipped overseas.
The ULP propagandist Vinciman said in 2017, “Our greatest fear is La Soufriere Volcano, and even so, we just go about our business as usual, like … it doesn’t even exist.”
In reply, Peter Binose wrote in 2017, “We now know the greatest fear of Ralph Gonsalves is La Soufriere Volcano erupting before Argyle officially opens. Because if that happened, it would be the end of the Argyle airport project; no airline would ever fly in there after that. There is the possibility that it will erupt in the future, perhaps even sometime soon.”
Binose went on to write in reply to Vinciman, “I am glad you mentioned La Soufriere Volcano and being worried about it erupting, so you should be. Because it is very much a live volcano and, according to records, is overdue to erupt. All aircraft sitting at the airport will be lost because the hot ash will destroy them. They will end up as scrap metal. They certainly will not be able to fly in the ash cloud, and the airport is within an area where hot rocks will rain down. Argyle may become an insurance nightmare for resident and visiting aircraft, with runway subsidence more than a possibility, huge winds when not expected and now a live volcano to consider.”
La Soufriere Volcano is an active volcano, it last erupted in 1979, and there is always steam and gasses rising from it, although it is currently resting. Looking at the record of La Soufriere’s past eruptions and the intervals between them, an eruption is now long overdue. So, it is not ‘if’ but when, and the regime knows that, which has frightened them. And as I previously said, “so it should”.
Binose wrote many articles about the Gonsalves folly of building facilities such as the Argyle airport and the Specialist Medical facility at Georgetown. But everything was built in those dangerous areas for ULP political purposes to generate jobs for the abundant ULP supporters in those areas. Binose even wrote about the folly of drilling where they did; perhaps if his advice had been taken, there would have been no current eruption and no investment damage.
Once more, we must place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Ralph Gonsalves actions, even in this current event. What has happened was on the cards to happen. He ignored sound advice from many critics and must be considered a fool.
Proverbs 12-15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.