Wonderful Engineering

Investigations Reveal That A Geothermal Plant Caused The South Korea Earthquake Of 2017

South Korea experienced the second-worst earthquake ever in 2017. Recent investigations have exposed that the earthquake might have happened because of humans. As per the government-funded study, the earthquake was caused because of an experimental geothermal plant situated in the city of Pohang.

A geothermal plant makes use of the internal heat of the Earth for the creation of cheap and clean energy, thus rendering itself as a tempting means of fighting climate change. The geothermal plant in Pohang was among one of the few experimental plants that have been constructed all over the world to make this energy generation method more efficient.

The Pohang geothermal plant works by pumping water measuring a few thousands of gallons deep under the Earth’s surface and into the subsurface cracks. The water gets warmed up by the crust of the Earth and is then brought back up to the surface. The excess heat is transformed into electricity. The method is similar to the approach that is employed by natural gas fracking operations.

Similar to fracking, a geothermal plant (aka geothermal injection plant) can also cause earthquakes. Back in 2006, a geothermal plant located in Switzerland triggered a 3.4 magnitude earthquake. So, what happens? When you pump water into the earth, it destabilizes the crust and makes it easier for the tectonic plates to slip. This poses a great threat to the communities that are living in the vicinity of a geothermal plant. The Pohang plant has been shut down permanently. However, many other geothermal plans are in action all over the world.

A study states that the geothermal generators can provide with more than 100gigawatts of electricity in the US over a few decades with an investment of only $1 billion. However, it is important that the problem of earthquakes is fixed before moving forward with the geothermal plant part.