Geothermal Energy Environmental Impact

The geothermal energy environmental impact created by geo heating is a concern that must be dealt with. 

Fluids extracted from the earth bring with them a mixture of gases, such as:

  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Methane
  • Ammonia

Those gases are major contributors to global warming, acid rain, and noxious smells.

Current geothermal plants generate a per MWh average of 270 lbs. of carbon monoxide.

Though this may sound bad, it is still negligible compared to the amount of emissions generated by coal, nuclear, and oil production.

All modern day geo power plants come equipped with emission control systems.

Hazardous gases are not the only geothermal energy environmental impact.

Krafla geothermal power plant in Iceland

Photo By Ásgeir Eggertsson

In addition, the hot water from geo geysers holds trace amounts of toxins, such as:

  • Mercury
  • Arsenic
  • Boron
  • Antimony

As the water cools, the toxic fumes are released into the atmosphere, and can cause serious damage to the environment. 

To deal with this problem, geothermal engineers developed a method of injecting the cooled water back into the earth.  This method has reduced the problem considerably.

Plant construction can also cause damage to land. Subsidence has been recorded in New Zealand and Germany due to geothermal plant operations.

Also, and a bit frightening, is the fact that geothermal operations involving hydraulic fracturing have caused earth quakes!

A project in Switzerland was suspended when the operation triggered more than 10, 000 seismic events, some up to 3.4 on the Richter Scale.

On the up side, geothermal energy production requires only 5 Gallons of freshwater per MWh.

Compare that to the 260 Gallons needed for oil, coal, and nuclear production!

But, the environmental issues do not just exist in industrial geothermal production.

If you are using a direct geothermal heating system (residential heating), then the pumps and compressors used may gain their energy from a coal dependent source, such as your local electricity provider.

One great way to deal with this problem is to simply combine solar with geothermal, creating “geosolar” energy.

In conclusion:

Though geothermal energy does have its environmental problems, its nothing compared to the issues conventional fossil fuels create. 

So, it’s worth the investment, regardless of the geothermal energy environmental impact.

Related Articles

Geothermal Energy Facts

Iceland: A Geothermal Hot Bed

How Geothermal Energy Works

Home Geothermal Energy

3 Benefits of Installing a Geothermal Heating System in Your Home

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