Wednesday 6 May 2015

Landslide triggers explosion at Indonesian geothermal energy project, killing at least four.

Four people have been confirmed dead and another nine are missing following an explosion on a pipeline belonging to a geothermal energy plant in West Java, Indonesia, on Tuesday 5 May 2015. A landslide triggered by torrential rain which has fallen in the area over the past few days apparently damaged the pipeline, operated by Star Energy Geothermal, which carries superheated steam warmed by volcanic rocks to drive an electric turbine, leading to an explosion which triggered a second landslide, which enveloped eight houses and their occupants in the village of Margamukti in Pangalenga District. Four other people are being treated for injuries in a nearby hospital.

The approximate location of the 5 May 2015 Margamukti landslide. Google Maps.

Landslides are a common problem in Java, particularly in the rainy season, which lasts from October till April, and can result in an annual rainfall in excess of 4000 mm in parts of West Java. Landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Approximately 90% of all landslides are caused by heavy rainfall. This problem has been made worse in West Java as expanding populations has led to people farming higher on hillslopes, in an area where soils tend to be volcanic in action and poorly consolidated (i.e. lack much cohesion), making them more prone to landslides.

Geothermal energy is generated by pumping water into hot volcanic rocks and then using the resultant steam to drive electrical turbines. Indonesia, which has extensive volcanic fields, is currently the world's third largest producer of geothermal energy, after the United States and the Philippines, and has plans to expand the industry considerably more. The industry dates back to the Dutch colonial period in Indonesia, with the first experimental drilling starting in 1926. Geothermal energy is considerably cleaner and more environmentally friendly than hydrocarbons based energy generation, and is generally considered safer as well, though clearly running pipelines containing superheated pressurized steam through populated, geologically unstable areas has the potential for problems.

See also...

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