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Earthquake Risk to Diminish by Producing Clean Energy

Seismologists reported thousands of aftershocks in the months following the magnitude-7.1 Earthquake in Ridgecrest, California, on July 5, 2019. Surprisingly, none were found in the Coso geothermal field, around 10 kilometers from the main shock’s surface ruptures. Caltech researchers have determined that operations related to geothermal energy production at Coso have de-stressed the region, making it less prone to Earthquake, during the last 30 years.

These findings could point to solutions to de-stress high-risk seismic locations while still constructing sustainable energy infrastructure. The study was carried out by Earle C. Anthony, Professor of Geology and Mechanical and Civil Engineering, Jean-Philippe Avouac. On July 1, a paper reporting the research will be published in the journal Nature.

Geothermal fields, such as the Coso region, are locations where subsurface temperatures are unusually high due to volcanic or tectonic activity. This heat can be used to generate clean energy without the usage of fossil fuels. Water is pushed down into the earth to collect this energy. The high temperatures heat it; when the water is brought back to the surface, the heat energy is used to generate electricity.

When water is pumped in during the building of a geothermal field, many minor Earthquake (about magnitude 4) are created. This is often seen as a reason for concern, and several geothermal projects have been canceled due to “caused” seismicity. However, according to this new study, these small Earthquake and the “silent” or aseismic deformation generated by fluid injection relieve tension and reduce the probability of a giant Earthquake in the region.

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