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Newberry geothermal site not affected by new fracking rules


Power for a whole town, provided from a 5-acre site. That could soon be a reality at the Newberry geothermal site by Paulina Lake.

Officials said Tuesday new federal regulations on fracking — injecting high-pressure liquid underground to extract oil or gas — won’t apply to their project.

Three years after the Newberry site got the go-ahead from th federale Bureau Land Management, it’s still years away from producing power. Once it does, it has the potential to power a small town.

“We will be able to power 50,000 to 60,000 households,” said David Stowe, spokesman with AltaRock.

In comparison to other green energy sources, geothermal produces energy all the time — and it’s not dependent on the sun shining or wind blowing. And while wind and solar farms take up huge spaces, geothermal works mostly underground.

“We’ve got a 5-acre pad here, and we can roughly produce 60 megawatts of energy from this pad,” Stowe said.

Critics are concerned about the side effects of getting to the hot rocks. Stowe said many confuse the process they use with the highly controversial fracking that’s used to extract oil or natural gas.

“This is not fracking,” Stowe said.

The process they’re using is called hydroshearing. It uses pressurized water to break through solid rock.

“It is very cold water, hitting very hot rock,” Stowe said. “It causes it to contract very fast. Sort of like an ice cube when you put water on it and you hear that cracking sound. It’s the same principle.”

While fracking uses chemicals to help with that process, hydroshearing relies on water and a biodegradable diverter, which enhances the fracture process.

Since they’re using a different process, the new federal regulations on fracking do not apply to the Newberry site.

In fact, Stowe said the guidelines they’re currently under are already stricter than those in the new regulations.

“Seismic monitoring, water quality, well integrity — we’re way above the thresholds that they’re requiring in the new regulations,” Stowe said.

Hydroshearing causes small earthquakes, but Stowe said any seismic activity at Newberry has been minimal.

“The largest earthquake we’ve ever had is about as much surface activity as a car driving by,” Stowe said.

If everything goes according to plan they hope to start producing power by 2016 or 2017.

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