Geothermal Energy in Jamaica – Steam Power from Magma Underground can cause Earthquakes and Contaminated Water

In January 2013, a Geologist named Krishna Vaswani proposed the idea of building a Geothermal Energy Plant in Jamaica at the three-day Jamaica Stock Exchange Investment and Capital Markets Conference in Kingston, which closed Thursday January 24th 2013 and had originally begun on Tuesday January 22nd 2013.

His proposal, which required that he raise US$4 million out of an intended sum of US$15 million floated, sounded strange. After all, Jamaica has no volcanoes. However, we do have active Mineral Springs at Milk River Bath, in Clarendon, one of the most potent in the world and in Bath, St. Thomas.

It is on this premise that Mr. Krishna Vaswani with the blessing of the PCJ (Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica) has been recommended to check out twelve (12) locations in Jamaica from which six have already been shortlisted for further exploration for their potential to drill boreholes to supply Geothermal Energy to Jamaica. These sites are:

  1. Guava River Spring, St Thomas

  2. Bath Spring, St Thomas

  3. Mt Felix Spring, St Thomas

  4. Garbrand Hall Spring, St Thomas

  5. Rockfort Spring in Kingston

  6. Ferry Hill Spring in St Catherine

  7. Salt River Spring in Clarendon

  8. Milk River Spring in Clarendon

  9. Black River Spring in St Elizabeth

  10. Windsor Spring in St Ann

  11. Yankee River Spring in St Ann

  12. Buxton Spring in Westmoreland

But albeit a Genie in the bottle waiting to be released, Geothermal Energy, despite its green billing, has some serious dangers associated with it development: Increased Seismic activity and Contaminated Groundwater!

Tapping Jamaica Geothermal Potential – Drilling Holes to the edge of the Lithosphere

Geothermal potential in Jamaica usually indicates that there may be volcanic material coming in contact with the water table, the source of the aforementioned hot springs in Jamaica. If so, then Geothermal Energy becomes possible. Another way it’s done is to pump hot water down into the Ground via borehole at which point it becomes hot and as it rises back to the surface, it returns as superheated Steam in Steam Turbines which can be used in Steam Turbines.

Surveys have to be done to locate sites in Jamaica where the Lithosphere is thinnest and the underground Water Table is interacting with the Mantle of the Earth’s Crust, which would usually be located around a spring. Seismic surveys would have to be done to determine the depth of the Mantle at those points and then a feasibility Study has to be done before drilling of boreholes can commence to pump in Water and get back pressurized Steam to turn Steam Turbines.

Our CARICOM neighbors have expressed an interest in developing Geothermal Energy to reduce their Electricity costs such as Dominica, where there Energy Minister Rayburn Blackmore of Dominica has expressed similar sentiments earlier in July 2013.

Like Jamaica, the Roosevelt Skerrit Administration in Dominica is also faced with an Energy Crisis as most of their Oil used for Electricity Generation is imported. Like Jamaica, they’re looking to move away from Farming Bananas and Tourism into Manufacturing for export via attracting Foreign Inventors. Dominica residents are also no different from Jamaicans and are complaining about their high electricity bills. These reasons for the basis for Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit speech in March 2013 at the Trafalgar/Shawford/Fond Canie Village Meeting.

Montserrat, has also sought to tap into Geothermal Energy as a means or reducing their dependence on Imported Foreign Oil. This is thanks to the United Kingdom’s DFID (Department for International Development) allocation of 8.5 million British Pounds to the drilling of three (3) test well, one of which is already showing promise.

Clean Energy is within their grasp. But how clean is Geothermal Energy?

Geothermal Energy Problems – Poisoned Groundwater and Earthquakes

In Dominica, however, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has been facing criticisms from persons turned critics citing:

  • Concerns over contaminated Ground Water

  • Potential to cause increased Seismic activity i.e. Earthquakes.

The possibility of the release of releasing poisonous gasses dissolved Sulphur and high concentrations of radioactive minerals out of the ground into the that can seep into the Water Table and the Drinking Water supply. After all, that’s what makes Mineral Springs so potent; the dissolved radioactive minerals in the hot water that are absorbed through the skin when you take a bath in the Milk River Spa.

Worse than this the danger of  Hexa-valent Chromium (VI) used in Steam Turbines to reduce rusting caused by superheated Steam in Drinking Water that’ll cause people on this very small island to get sick easily, Erin Brokovitch (2000) Style.

Geothermal Energy has also been linked to increased Earthquake activity as a similar technique is used in the US called Fracking to extract Shale Gas or Natural Gas from the Ground. Pumping waters sets off earthquakes as when the water goes down, albeit it comes up back as superheated steam, the Earth is not exactly a watertight bottle. Some of that superheated steam escapes and not only contaminates ground water, but it gets into rocks and due to its gaseous nature loosens up top soil and sets up the surrounding area for miles for Liquefaction during even minor earth tremors.

If the borehole is very deep, close to the barrier between the Lithosphere and the mantle some 8 to 10 km deep, the expanding steam can act as a super lubricant and cause the earth to move, exposing more magma that can rise up through the lithosphere. This can not only set off earthquakes but it can also cause volcanic activity and new Geysers and springs to form in parts of the Country where none originally existed.

After all, it’s VERY hot in the Earth. If that level of heat were to reach the Earth’s surface, Seismic Activity as well as deadly Steam Release and Pyroclastic Flows of molten Lava could be the result. As such, albeit it may be clean Energy, pumping water into the ground may set off Earthquakes and potentially trigger off even bigger events such as Volcanic Eruptions.

Geologist Krishna Vaswani isn’t being honest – Hiding behind a veil of Shadows

These environmental concerns may explain the secretive nature of Mr. Vaswani and his partners. Some of his figures have also changed, as back in January 2013 he’s said Jamaica had 100MW of Geothermal Power in Jamaica. Now he’s quoting  only 15MW, a mere shade over 10% of his previous estimates Also, curiously, despite the presence of the Bid for the 115MW Renewable Energy Contract, Geologist Krishna Vaswani has expressed no interest in pursue the GOJ (Government of Jamaica) Contract.

Strange, why no interest in the 115MW Bidding Process? Could it be that the danger associated with Geothermal Energy are so great that they’d result in the Projects cancellation due to public Scrutiny? Geothermal Energy development will face similar scrutiny here in Jamaica as it does in Dominica and other Caribbean Islands, hence Geologist Krishna Vaswani and his equally silent partners dodging Media interviews and Public Demonstrations!

Possibly, Mr. Vaswani and his partners plan to be an IPP (Independent Power Provider) to sell estimated 15MW of power to JPS Co (Jamaica Public Service Company). Worse, they may be secretly using their drilling equipment to look for valuable /minerals. But this is only a guess; their very secretive even about their final six (6) sites.

The GOJ needs to investigate this as the dangers with even drilling Test Wells are enough to warrant NEPA (National Environmental and Planning Agency) stepping in to regulate this process before we end up with massive and more frequent earthquakes and undrinkable arsenic, Copper, Barium and Chromium (VI) tainted water.

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Lindsworth is a Radio Frequency and Generator Maintenance Technician who has a knack for writing about his work, which is in the Telecoms Engineering Field. An inspired writer on themes as diverse as Autonomous Ants simulations, Power from Lightning and the current Tablet Wars.