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« Tol on radical greens | Main | Antifracking: the Russian connection »

Trouble in Eden

In a shock announcement, the Eden Project has revealed that it is going to start hydraulically fracturing rocks beneath its site in a bid to extract geothermal energy. They are keen to emphasise the differences between what they are going to be doing and shale gas operations but a glance suggests these are largely distinctions without a difference.

Fracking the rock to create a geothermal heat exchanger is not the same as fracking for shale gas. We will not be releasing fossil fuels for burning. Geothermal developments are much deeper and in granite so there is much less chance of surface damage or contamination to the water table. We have no plans to use proppants or associated viscous chemical fluids to keep the circulation open. France encourages geothermal development but has a moratorium on fracking for gas.

The bit about the developments being "much deeper" than shale is not true. The image on the Eden project puts the depth at something like 4 or 5 km, which is pretty much the same depth at which the Bowland shale sites will be operating. Non-use of proppants - i.e. sand - seems to me to be a diversion rather than a meaningful distinction.

I also wonder if the planners are going to be presented with a dilemma over the noise levels:

Rigs are hired from the oil industry, so drilling will take place 24 hours a day to minimise the cost. It will take around 20 weeks per well. The rig will be one specifically for use in a populated area and heavily soundproofed, producing up to 45dBA at 200m. During operation, the generator will make a constant noise: a maximum of 30dBA at a distance of 200m. But because buildings are low, the noise can be tempered by landscaping.

Readers will recall that similar noise levels were deemed entirely unacceptable for shale gas operations.

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Reader Comments (67)

We will not be releasing fossil fuels for burning.
Fair enough. Presumably, they will just vent any that is released straight into the atmosphere. Definitely not going to try to make a bit on the side, so to speak, by selling it to those who could use it constructively. How noble.

Jan 28, 2015 at 10:10 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Geothermal developments are much deeper and in granite so there is much less chance of surface damage or contamination to the water table.

Doesn't granite trap radon gas?

Radon gas poses significant health concerns, and is the number two cause of lung cancer in the US behind smoking. - wiki.

So instead of bringing hydrocarbons to the surface they will be bringing radon gas.

Jan 28, 2015 at 10:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Radical Rodent on Jan 28, 2015 at 10:10 AM

"Presumably, they will just vent any [ fossil fuel] that is released straight into the atmosphere."

Won't that be releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere?

I am assuming that these fossil fuels will not be lumps of anthracite or lignite which would fall to the ground, but would not be allowed to be burnt as it would release another well known greenhouse gas.

Jan 28, 2015 at 10:18 AM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

It will set a precedent that will be very useful to the gas industry. You cannot use a commercial gas rig this close to St.Blazey and then claim that it is too noisy elsewhere. Eden is surrounded by farms.

Jan 28, 2015 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

If the Eden Project can have a scale diagram of the fracking process, why can't the BBC use a similarly scaled diagram in their anti-fracking propaganda?

I note the Eden diagram omits the water table through which their twin pipes will be drilled.

The. Eden press release States they have 'no plans' to use proppannts or 'associated' viscous chemical fluids. But IMHO those are very carefully chosen words.

If they plan to use just water, why not say so? The fact that they don't speaks volumes. So there will probably be additives.

Jan 28, 2015 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

From their environmental statement in the planning application

Drilling may result in releases of radon however impacts during construction are not anticipated as radon will not build up to dangerous levels in an outdoor location. No impacts to nearby residences are anticipated as a result of outdoor construction activities as radon released will diffuse into the atmosphere.

Jan 28, 2015 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Fracking is fracking no matter how you try to dress it up and what you hope to extract at the end.

Maybe the industry can learn from the planning proposal just how to get their proposals approved after all, the equipment is the same, the depth is the same, the technique is the same and, I suspect, what will be brought to the surface is the same.

Jan 28, 2015 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterivan

The radon thing is interesting when you compare it to what environmentalists said about Brent Spar, which was alleged to contain radioactive waste.

Jan 28, 2015 at 10:34 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

And the second most common cause of lung cancer in the UK is exposure to radon gas!

And what about all that radioactivity in the drilling spoil?

I think the public should be told.

Oh, I'm going to enjoy this, what a laugh.

Jan 28, 2015 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

Has anyone told them that geothermal energy is about as sustainable as fossil fuels?

Jan 28, 2015 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

If you could give words a colour , the colour for hypocrisy would be deep green .

Jan 28, 2015 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

There's good fracking and there's bad fracking. Fracking for radioactive materials is good (don't let them know about radiation hormesis), Fracking for natural gas is bad.

Jan 28, 2015 at 11:07 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Not just Radon of course, but radium will be produced. Scale will build up inside the pipes which will have to be disposed of as a radioactive waste, just like on some producing oil rigs. Nothing that cant be handled of course and not a danger to the envrionment, but ironic nonetheless.

On the plus side, the may also produce some gold. :-)

Jan 28, 2015 at 11:08 AM | Unregistered Commentersteve Brown

I think this proposal deserves support.

I am concerned that there is a strong possibility of high levels of potentially lethal levels of hypocracy, being released amongst the Green Luvvies over this novel use of untried fracking technology.

The fact that an unknown, and unseen, manmade catastrophe could be generated, leading to untold collapse of anti frakking opposition arguments, could lead to heart seizures, from high levels of merriment, and consequent attacks of spontaneous incontinence.

Green Luvvies have no concept of even mild mirth or merriment, hence the complete absence of any mention in the planning application. That they ignore such perils, tells the world a lot.

Jan 28, 2015 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Apparently Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project, was one of the signatories on a letter to the Times last year (along with many of the usual suspects) against fracking:

Presumably he would approve of the precautionary principle being evoked to block Ineos or Cuadrilla, but also assert that it shouldn't apply to his own operation.

Jan 28, 2015 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

Costs are enormous. Will their conservation budget take a hit because of these grandiose scheme?

Jan 28, 2015 at 11:34 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

If they are going to use stuff borrowed from the oil drilling industry, have they considered the possibility of causing cross contamination, deep undeground, in rock, with crude oil?

Jan 28, 2015 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Last time I went to the Eden project (a couple of years ago) it was clear that the project was failing.

Maintenance on the external gardens was inadequate. The roof of the Temperate dome leaked at a seam (or was it the Tropical dome?) There seemed to be fewer of those vital volunteer students doing litter picks. And the price of a ticket kept rising.

For several years the Eden Project won Best Large Visitor Attraction from the Cornish Tourist board. It has been replaced by Trebah Gardens. The Cornish know something is going wrong.

The Eden Project needs something new to raise the profile. It needs something Green to distinguish it from all the other gardens on Cornwall.
The Eden Project is desperate.

Jan 28, 2015 at 11:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterMCourtney

The Eden Project is a great believer in the GHE. So to save money they could increase the CO2 content inside their greenhouses and let the GHE raise the temperature. No fracking required.

Jan 28, 2015 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Robert Christopher (Jan 28, 2015 at 10:18 AM): well, yes. That was the point of the post; “ironic cynicism” might be a name for it.

It would be interesting to see how many of those who were at Balcombe or Barton Moss will turn up. What will Caroline Lucas or Vivienne Westwood do? My suspicions are that the silence will be deafening – unless the locals raise a genuine protest, then they would be assured of the swampies invading to drown them out.

Jan 28, 2015 at 11:55 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

A well know Alarmist shill, Tim Flannery, had his fingers in suc a pie in Australia. He fracked through a nice little wad of taxpayers' subsidy before it ended in failure:

Jan 28, 2015 at 11:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

It's worth pointing out that this is not the only such project in Cornwall.

It's also worth noting that it was proven to be uneconomic in the 1970s (with oil prices being high) but it is still being pursued as a Government subsidised experiment.

They will prove (as always) that con artists can get rich off crooked civil servants (in my opinion).

Jan 28, 2015 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterMCourtney

I wonder if the RSPB will raise concerns?

"Harry Huyton is head of energy and climate change at the RSPB.

He told BBC News: "We have found that there are serious potential risks to the environment from fracking.

"There are risks associated with using lots of water, with causing the accidental contamination of water, but also from the infrastructure that is required by the industry. This could mean lots of well pads all around the landscape. All of these could have an impact on wildlife."

Jan 28, 2015 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Does it make economic sense? From the Eden website:

"Is geothermal electricity expensive?

Geothermal costs are largely up front: drilling is expensive, and not every well will work. In countries with an established industry, conventional geothermal plants are cost competitive already. DECC’s own figures show that on a levelised cost basis, geothermal electricity from the lower temperature resources we have in the UK would be the same price as onshore wind electricity, and cheaper than solar or biomass. If the heat can be used, it is cheaper still, and the technology is still at a phase where substantial improvements are expected."

The answer is yes; it is more expensive than generation from 'fossil' fuels, but at least it is not intermittent.

Jan 28, 2015 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Drake

Radical Rodent, you use the term "deafening silence". Please note that this could open up a whole new era in psyantriphic research into grant funding application, for problems that do not exist. All people who have suffered progressive hearing loss, will have endured moments of silence, before their hearing became impaired.

Tax payer funded, grant addicted psyantrixists, have left no stone unturned, to find habitats not disturbed, by turning stones over, and see no reason to be turned over, to stop them, getting stoned.

Jan 28, 2015 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

And don't forget there is often an association between geothermal energy extraction and earthquakes.

Jan 28, 2015 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterSean

Every geothermal project I've had any involvement with has been subsidised, if not through direct grants like Geodynamics got, then by guaranteed inflated feed-in tariffs, not to mention the free ride through lack of the usual pile of compliances and hostile oversight that hydrocarbon drilling has to contend with, lack of obstructionism from local authorities, lack of media and lax law enforcement encouraging obstructive and sometimes violent protestors ... I could go on.

But hey, drill baby drill!
I hope they sell the t-shirt at Eden.

Jan 28, 2015 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

I don't know if this is true. From a comment at my link above:

Secondly the hot water and steam released vast amounts of CO2 sequestered in the surrounding bedrock


Jan 28, 2015 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

"Rigs are hired from the oil industry"

Who I trust will charge extra for the wear and tear when drilling through granite!

Jan 28, 2015 at 1:07 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

What additives will be used to prevent/suppress scaling, bacterial growth, pH control, etc? What minerals (chemicals to the greens) will be leached from the rocks? In much of Cornwall, it is common to see relatively high levels of metals such as tin, copper, lead, zinc and arsenic in granite formations, and the possibility of uranium.

Jan 28, 2015 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Drake

Have to say I am learning a lot about fracking I was unaware of before, and as I need to post a comment to be prompted on any more, post this to applaud those who have done so already and encourage and more coming.

In passing, I share an interest in how the standards of reporting will match multiples in other ways.

Jan 28, 2015 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterJunkkMale

MCourtenay, you note that one of the geodesic domes leaked at a seam. Did the seam leak because of a defective seal? Obviously they would never have used a seal or sealant derived from the petrochemical industry, so what was it?

Jan 28, 2015 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

This planning application (10/04671) was granted permission in December 2010, to EGS Energy.

Conditional Permission was granted with a number of conditions, one of which is that the development shall be begun not later than 16 December 2013. (Usual 3 year rule - permission lapses if the work is not begun)

The next application was in June 2013 (PA 13/05057) requesting an extension of the deadline to start the project. Reason given was
"Funding issues have delayed the start of this project and we cannot complete the reserved matters until we have completed the second deep well to enable us to define the precise specifications and layout of the plant"

(Reserved matters are planning conditions, usually small details, left to be agreed later with the planning staff)

The second planning permision was granted on 22 November 2013.

Reading between the lines it seems that they started the work but has all gone "Chest- Up".

Jan 28, 2015 at 1:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic

Radon is real and serious problem in the former mining districts of Cornwall, including the St Austell area, where the Eden Project is sited. During the period from 1845-1913, when mineral returns were statutory, over 600 tons of uranium ore were produced in Cornwall. Pitchblende (uranium oxide) was found at three mines in the St Austell area, one of which is less than 8 miles away from the Eden Project was at one time named Uranium Mine.

There are a number old mine sites in Cornwall with spoil tips that can knock a Gieger counter off the scale and samples of pitchblende and other uranium minerals can be found.

Jan 28, 2015 at 1:26 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Credit to @TerryS and @MikeH who have been mentionining this since August 21 2013 and.. August 27 2013
- and there was that Dec 2012 Rob Edwards article covered on BH about Green Groups set to do geothermal fracking in Scotland

Jan 28, 2015 at 1:49 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Look - its not fracking..! Its DIFFERENT..!! OK..??

(P.S Radon is a real problem - are they REALLY not going to put up any sort of building to house the geothermal heat exchanger..? In which case it will have to have a radon extraction system in the foundations...)

Jan 28, 2015 at 1:52 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Golf Charlie, no idea. I could see the drip / leak from the corner of some panels but you need a balloon to get up there and inspect it. It was probably gum form one of their rubber trees.

It was just indicative of the general air of decline that permeated the site. Although my comment on its decline in the Cornwall Tourism awards has been reversed in 2014.

But interestingly, it didn't place in:

Jan 28, 2015 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterMCourtney

Different how ? Why call it fracking then ?
Pressure is less cos you are only trying to open up existing cracks
"With hydraulic fracturing, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped deep into the ground where pressure causes fracturing, or cracks, in the shale. Gas and oil seeps into the cracks and can be pumped to the surface.
But Susan Petty, president of Seattle-based AltraRock Energy, says that geothermal fracking is different. It involves a technology called hydro-shearing, which doesn't pose the same risks, she said. With hydro-shearing, water is pumped down wells into the reservoir to expand existing cracks. But, she said, the pressure is much less and the technique is not trying to break rock, only open up existing cracks."

Jan 28, 2015 at 2:09 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

sherlock1, good point about radon extraction. It makes me wonder if they have done any radon monitoring/mitigation within the biomes themselves. It is unlikely to be a hazard to visitors, but could be a long-term hazard for employees.

Jan 28, 2015 at 2:19 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Guardian said geothermal is scary sxary earthquakes Jul 2013
"The water injection appears to prime cracks in the rock, making them vulnerable to triggering by tremors from earthquakes thousands of miles away."
"These fluids are driving faults to their tipping point."

Jan 28, 2015 at 2:26 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

@Jan 28, 2015 at 1:07 PM jamesp


Back in the '70's when I was working at DEC, we had a computer system at the original hot rocks project, sited in a old quarry near Helston, run by Camborne school of mines.

There was a large temporary building, used as their site office, which housed our computer. Along the front of the building, was a concrete slab. Lying on the slab were numerous worn out drill heads. The cutting teeth which when new were triangular, about a couple of inchs in length, had vanished on these worn drill bits, only vague nubbins remained on the head. At the time I thought that it was a foolish idea to drill through hard granite, with a tool that normally is used in sedimentary rock formations.

Eventually they managed to get their two holes, (for water flow and return) deep enough for a demo, but shallower than the proposed depth. They altered (turned) the drills towards each other, again that was a slow process as they had to pull the drills often and drop an instrument package down the hole, a form of inertia nav platform I recall, The DEC computer calculated and plotted the distance between the holes.

They decided they had finished and dropped an explosive charge down the hole which when detonated fractured the rock between the pipe ends ==== Explosive Fracking!).

They then started to pump water down one pipe and up the t'other. hoping for a nice heat gain. However the return flow was only a small percentage of the down flow, They had underground leakage from the fracture area. The amount of energy harvested was derisery and the project was abandoned.



Jan 28, 2015 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Granddad

"Call it Natural Nuclear " Physicsworld in Oct 2010 describing Eden Projects Geothermal
"The Redruth granite is hot because it is full of radioactive uranium, potassium and thorium. "Cornish granites are known for having a high concentration of these elements, therefore they have a measurably higher heat flow compared to other granites,"
- Yes @GrumpyGrandad ..article also talks about water loss being large ..cos feactured rock haa lots of places where it leaks.
- Hang on they have to pump water down ! ! I thought thata why we cant gasfrack is cos the UK is drought prone and isn't Cornwall the driest place spring to summer ? So they won"t be getting maximum power

Jan 28, 2015 at 2:49 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Why does the Eden project need a source of "cheap heat"? Surely with all the global warming due to the greenhouse effect, why are they having to heat their greenhouses?

If the Green Luvvies find out that some plants need a warmer environment to live, wouldn't that pour DDT on some of their scare stories about mass extinction?

Jan 28, 2015 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Fracturing for geothermal should require less pressure but the risk of communication with other zones would be much greater.

There is really no wriggling out of the contradictions for anti-frackers. Like I said elsewhere, they're not really against fracking which they know buggerall about anyway, they're against all hydrocarbons and any pretext will do.

Jan 28, 2015 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Would the Eden project be better off trying to kill two climate dead ducks, with one stoned hippy?

Jan 28, 2015 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

In response to jamesp, they will probably now use polycrystalline diamond drilling bits which don't have the wear rates of the tools used in former times.

But to state that they won't use proppants makes no sense. If you open a crack at depth by pumping in fluid then if you then drop the pressure back the crack will close up again. The pressure in the ground goes up about 1 pound/sq inch for every foot you go deeper - as a rough rule of thumb, and without adding the sand or other propping material that pressure is enough to close the cracks back up. They sound as though they have been very poorly advised. Oh, and to get the proppants to carry into the narrow cracks you have to add the additives (long chain polymers some of which are similar to those used to keep the bubbles stable in beer) - but if they have their minds set on not using them, then it probably won't work.

Jan 28, 2015 at 3:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterHeading Out

Fascinating - yet more cognitive dissonance time for the Green Blob.

Does anybody remotely sane really believe that you need less pressure to open up cracks in, of all things, granite than those in shale (i.e. compressed mud)?

And as for the sop about not 'planning to use' proppants or nasty viscous fluids - who needs added nasties when the huge volume of circulating water will be a radioactive soup of highly toxic heavy metals?

Jan 28, 2015 at 3:28 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

The Eden project has all the answers:

How noisy will it be?
Rigs are hired from the oil industry, so drilling will take place 24 hours a day to minimise the cost. It will take around 20 weeks per well. The rig will be one specifically for use in a populated area and heavily soundproofed, producing up to 45dBA at 200m. During operation, the generator will make a constant noise: a maximum of 30dBA at a distance of 200m. But because buildings are low, the noise can be tempered by landscaping.

Will drilling or fracturing the rock cause problems at the surface?
In December 2006 in Basel, Switzerland, earth tremors were felt in an area where geothermal development was taking place. Cornwall’s geology is far more stable than that in Basel, which is in a tectonic region with a long history of earthquakes. Many years of geothermal development and reservoir stimulation were carried out at the Rosemanowes research project in south Cornwall with only one tremor felt at the surface and no damage recorded. Nevertheless a full seismic risk report has been carried out. Seismic sensors and accelerometers will be installed to make sure that in the highly unlikely event of any increase in the level of seismic activity, work would be stopped and the matter investigated.

Fracking the rock to create a geothermal heat exchanger is not the same as fracking for shale gas. We will not be releasing fossil fuels for burning. Geothermal developments are much deeper and in granite so there is much less chance of surface damage or contamination to the water table. We have no plans to use proppants or associated viscous chemical fluids to keep the circulation open. France encourages geothermal development but has a moratorium on fracking for gas.

Will it affect the water supply?
Water will be needed to set up the system, but the wells are totally encased with steel to a depth of 4km. This means that the water will circulate in a closed loop and will have no impact on local aquifers or present any risk of flooding at the surface. Any water released from the wells during maintenance or normal running will be contained in lagoons and treated.

What about radiation?
Radon and background radiation is naturally produced by the granites and clays of Cornwall. The chemical composition of the water and all waste streams will be monitored and dealt with throughout the drilling of the wells. During operation, all water will circulate in a closed circuit.

So there we are. Everything in apple-pie order - and we're greenies so we're trustworthy

Jan 28, 2015 at 3:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

Capell. Pure greenwash. As organic, harmless, safeless, scienceless and factless as it comes.

No Green Luvvie would ever let shale oil frackers get away with such rubbish. You could just copy stuff like that off the internet, and where would that leave UEA graduates in Earth Studies?

Jan 28, 2015 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

@ Capell 3:44pm

"Will it affect the water supply?
Any water released from the wells during maintenance or normal running will be contained in lagoons and treated."

If the fracking fluid they use is to be mainly water with no proppants or associated viscous chemical fluids, one has to wonder why the need for quarantine lagoons & subsequent fluid treatment.

Jan 28, 2015 at 4:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

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