Chile: Mining Commission to follow geothermal activities closely

Alexander Richter 14 Oct 2009

Drilling operations at El Tatio by Empresa Geotermica Norte (EGN) have been indefinitely suspended while an investigation by Chile's Mining Commission continues.

Reported in Chile, “Drilling operations at El Tatio by Empresa Geotermica Norte (EGN) have been indefinitely suspended while an investigation continues.

“The company responsible for creating a 60-meter high artificial geyser last month near San Pedro de Atacama was slapped with 14 citations this week for operational breaches by government inspectors.

Workers drilling an exploration hole accidentally triggered the massive eruption of water and steam, which took Empresa Geotermica Norte (EGN) nearly a month to control (ST, Oct. 6). The eruption provoked tremendous concern in the nearby San Pedro de Atacama community which depends almost entirely on the tourism industry.

The breaches cited by authorities include the lack of suitable protocols, lack of technical personnel and specialist equipment to deal with the emergency and an apparent failure in the technical analysis of the drilling of the well.

EGN “did not have the appropriate procedures in place for an event of this nature,” said Alejandro Vio, director of the National Service of Geology and Mining (SERNAGEOMIN). The company asked firemen to open the valves and release the pressure from the geyser, he said.

Earlier this year, EGN won the concession to begin preliminary geothermal explorations at “El Tatio,” a geothermic field located in Chile’s Region II.

The site is also one of the main tourist attractions of the San Pedro de Atacama area.

Opposition to the project, which gained considerable attention in the aftermath of the geyser eruption, has been spearheaded by the Environment and Tourism Coalition of San Pedro de Atacama. They claim drilling for geothermal energy could reduce underground heat and lower the water table to a point where the activity of the geysers and their tourism value could be compromised.

EGN is controlled by Italy’s largest energy producer, ENEL, which was responsible for managing operational aspects of the project. Additional shares are controlled by Chile’s National Petroleum Company (ENAP) and National Copper Corporation (CODELCO), which own 44 percent and 5 percent, respectively. ENEL is also the company behind the controversial HidroAysen dam project slated for Patagonia.

Representatives of EGN will answer to the alleged breaches in the next session of the commission.”

Source: Santiago Times