Geothermal energy uses the heat found beneath Earth’s surface as an energy resource. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the amount of heat that flows from the planet into the atmosphere every year is equivalent to ten times the annual energy consumption of the United States. Although the heat itself is renewable, the process of accessing it and converting it to usable energy can negatively impact the environment.
Seismic activity increases near each new geothermal power plant that is built, according to Dave Oppenheimer, a seismologist who works at the U.S. Geological Survey. The chance of earthquakes is increased when power plants inject water below Earth's surface in order to keep the pressure of the steam up. According to an article in "Scientific American," geologists at Geysers geothermal steam-field in Napa Valley, California, estimate that there have been 40 percent more earthquakes since they started injecting water into the ground.
According to the University of Wisconsin, water released from geothermal cooling towers may contain dissolved toxic compounds and substances such as boron, arsenic and mercury. These can pollute streams, rivers and lakes. Geothermal cooling towers also release carbon dioxide although the rate of release is less than 10 percent of the amount released by an equivalent fossil-fuel-based power plant. According to the Defenders of Wildlife website, emissions can be reduced into a sludge that is high in sulphur and heavy metals, resulting in problems with disposal.
Many geothermal areas have become major tourist attractions, producing employment opportunities and bringing money into local communities. With the arrival of a power plant, the heat and fluid extracted from geothermal sources can deplete the efficiency and volume of geysers and surface hot springs. According to the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College, geothermal development of land 8 kilometers away from the boundary of Yellowstone National Park nevertheless reduced the flow of the LaDuke hot spring.
Despite the U.S. Department of Energy's decision to classify geothermal energy as renewable, sources may eventually cool down, according to "National Geographic." This can negatively affect the fragile habitats that rely on them at the surface. Species of ferns and club moss can only survive in the heated soil and steam of geothermal habitats, as well as a variety of thermophilic fungi and bacteria.
- Carleton College: Should Geothermal Energy Resources around Yellowstone Park be Developed?
- Scientific American: California Heats Up over Natural Steam
- U.S. Geological Survey: Geothermal Energy—Clean Power From the Earth’s Heat
- University of Wisconsin: Facts about Geothermal Energy Resources
- National Geographic: Geothermal Energy
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
Advantages & Disadvantages Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy creates electricity from superheated areas under the Earth's surface. There are numerous advantages to using geothermal energy, however, simple economics...