Yellowstone Volcano: Would Supervolcano Fracking Ever Be A Good Idea?

The Yellowstone volcano continues to be a topic of interest throughout 2014, with public interest being so strong that the USGS has responded to the conspiracy theories being bandied about around the internet. But although some feel the raging heat being generated by the caldera underneath Yellowstone National Park is a reason for worry, alternative energy companies view volcano fracking as a good way to power the country.

In a related report by The Inquisitr, it’s claimed that oil fracking could induce earthquakes and Oklahoma has seen a veritable spike in seismicity in recent times. So we asked several scientists whether or not it’s possible that earthquakes induced by U.S. oil fracking could affect the Yellowstone supervolcano.

The potential link between earthquakes and fracking is considered highly controversial and some even say it has been politicized due to the environmental concerns surrounding fracking. According to Wired, an energy company called AltaRock Energy believes that hydrofracking a volcano might be a good way to extract clean energy from a dormant volcano. The proposed system would use heat generated underneath the ground to convert injected reservoirs of waters into steam that will rise to the surface and turn electric turbines. Besides geologically active areas, the company also drills down as far as four miles down in order to tap the energy naturally created by geological processes.

Of course, AltaRock Energy is not planning on setting up shop anywhere close to the Yellowstone volcano. Instead, they’re planning on using the Newberry volcano in Oregon for generating geothermal energy. If you want to follow the progress of their project they even have a blog, which gave a status update earlier this month. Over the long term, they’re hoping to produce 100,000 megawatts of electricity over a 15-year period.

But fracking and Yellowstone national park will continue to be a topic of discussion for years to come. The EPA is trying to pass rules that would not only limit fracking wells near Yellowstone, they would also protect large chunks of land throughout the United States. When we asked the experts on the issue they believe fracking will not be close enough to the Yellowstone volcano to pose a danger.

“Yellowstone National Park is protected by law from any oil or gas exploration or development. The portion of Montana that borders Yellowstone is predominately very old crystalline basement rocks (Beartooth Mountain Range) or thick piles of volcanic rocks (Absaroka and Gallatin Ranges), neither of which would be conducive to hosting oil or gas deposits. If fracking operations are planned north of these mountain ranges, it would be at distances of many tens of miles from the borders of the park and even farther from the Yellowstone volcano. Thus it seems extremely unlikely that any potential oil or gas development in Montana could affect the Yellowstone volcano. The areas in Montana immediately outside of Yellowstone are protected by law (and compact) against geothermal development.”

The last part also answers our question on whether or not a company like AltaRock Energy could ever attempt harnessing the geothermal energy of the Yellowstone volcano. Still, even if the laws regulating geothermal energy were to hypothetically allow access, the differences between the two volcanoes would likely not be considered worth the risk.

Older reports from earlier in 2014 say the Yellowstone caldera has a pressure build up of around 36,000 atmospheres, which is amazing if you consider that Mexico’sPopocatépetl was estimated to be around 54 atmospheres when it erupted. When the caldera underneath Yellowstone generates enough pressure it will explode with the power of a nuclear explosion, so even a “minor” steam explosion that vents off some of that pressure along the periphery of the Yellowstone supervolcano could be quite explosive indeed. So, if by some miracle, a geothermal company were to ever get the green light from the EPA to start drilling it would be years and years of research by geologists to ensure safety, and even then most likely any operations would be undertaken upon the extreme fringe of the volcano’s reach.

What do you think about the idea of volcano fracking in general?