Protection of geothermal areas

Salome Hallfreðsdóttir

The magnificent and distinctive geothermal areas are one of the main characteristics of Icelandic nature and are almost unparalleled in the world. Their diversity is high, both in relation to geology and mineralogy as well as biology, but in many of these areas endemic species of thermophilic (heat-loving) microbes can be found, having adapted to very extreme habitats.

Geothermal areas are under high pressure due to development

The exact number of geothermal areas is unknown in Iceland, but has been estimated to be 27. Of those, one is in the seabed and six are found underneath glaciers. Almost half (nine) of areas visible on the surface have been disturbed by drilling. 

A Master Plan for hydro and geothermal energy resources in Iceland, passed as a parliamentary motion in January 2013, groups potential areas for hydro and geothermal energy development into three categories; protection, waiting and utilization categories. More than 70% of all potential geothermal high temperature fields were grouped into the utilization and waiting categories, 43% and 29% respectively. Therefore, geothermal areas are under a lot of pressure due to development.

Landvernd's effort to protect geothermal areas

First of all, Landvernd has put special emphasis on the protection of high temperature geothermal areas. The association has challenged the myth about the sustainability of energy production from these areas, relating to the low energy efficiency (10-15%), adverse human health impacts from hydrogen sulphite emissions and pollution from power plant waste water. In the review papers on the masterplan that Landvernd sent in, the association suggested that most of the high temperature geothermal areas categorized for utilization be assigned a waiting status until more is known about the environmental and human health impacts of harnessing the resource for energy production.

Second of all, Landvernd runs an educational program to promote sustainable tourism in geothermal areas, but these areas are very vulnerable to intrusion and traffic.


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