Don’t these people look where they’re drilling?

One of the conclusions that came out of the Lusi debate at AAPG was that poor choice of drilling location was at least as big a factor in the disaster than anything that was (or wasn’t done) during the drilling. Now, via the BBC, comes this report from the AGU conference*:

Drillers looking for geothermal energy in Hawaii have inadvertently put a well right into a magma chamber.

Molten rock pushed back up the borehole several metres before solidifying, making it perfectly safe to study.

Erm – seismic survey, anyone? I mean, it’s not that finding molten rock beneath the ground in Hawaii is exactly a shock. Fortunately, rather than a scene from a bad disaster movie, there’s apparently a scientific payoff:

Magma specialist Bruce Marsh says it will allow scientists to observe directly how granites are made.

“This is unprecedented; this is the first time a magma has been found in its natural habitat,” the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, professor told BBC News.
“Before, all we had to deal with were lava flows; but they are the end of a magma’s life. They’re lying there on the surface, they’ve de-gassed. It’s not the natural habitat.

“It’s the difference between looking at dinosaur bones in a museum and seeing a real, living dinosaur roaming out in the field.”

Here’s the abstract of the presentation. I love the description of the discovery as being ‘during routine commercial drilling operations’.
*Don’t mention the conference! Or at least, the fact that I’m not at it. Again.

Categories: geology, volcanoes

Comments (13)

  1. Fischblog says:

    Well, say what you will: They wanted geothermal energy and they got it. 😉

  2. Ian says:

    You just wanted to post something where you could say “magma” like Dr Evil in the Austin Powers movies. Go on, admit it! We love to say it, too!

  3. Julia says:

    “It’s the difference between looking at dinosaur bones in a museum and seeing a real, living dinosaur roaming out in the field.”
    No it’s not!!

  4. J-Dog says:

    Looking at this another way, wouldn’t it be possible to stave off potentially dangerous volcanic eruptions by tapping into and giving safe outlets to magma through judicious use of lava-stream outlets?
    Just my crazy idea to make all Discovery TV Disaster shows obsolete…
    Should I be blocking out time on my schedule to go to Sweden soon? 🙂

  5. Silver Fox says:

    How come the drillers always get blamed and not the geologist that sited the hole? I guess we just have better press, or something.

  6. Chris Rowan says:

    Alright then. Maaaaagggmmmaaaaa! Satisfied?
    And in both instances, I would blame the people plonking their finger on the map. And, in the case of Lusi, the AAPG seemed to agree.

  7. a drill in Iceland hit a magma vein in the summer of ’85
    they lost the rig and triggered a minor eruption, nobody killed though
    they were drilling close a know active area which had had several minor eruptions the previous years and had some more subsequently.

  8. Ken Clark says:

    Coincidently, all of the wells on the Puna Geothermal project are drilled into the Eastern Rift Zone of the big island. Itís not so surprising that they hit live magma in a well, it is surprising that they have only hit it in one well, there are around 20 wells on lease (lava last flowed across the area in 1955). The well in question was over 8000 feet deep and less than a foot in diameter, the magma was not about to become lava. As to energy production, one well can make anywhere form 3-30 megawatts of electricity with zero atmospheric pollution (drilling the well produces such from burning diesel, but that is miniscule compared to how much the well saves). In my opinion that is worth doing, as apposed to most of the electricity produced on the big island from burning bunker oil. In addition, I have seen the debris and cuttings from the magma under a microscope, and they are really cool;)

  9. Ken Clark says:

    P.S. as to where they were drilling, its not so much as sticking thier finger on a map, as “there are no houses on this spot of land, you can drill here”

  10. Andrew Dodds says:

    J-Dog –
    I suppose that in theory, you cold put a borehole into a magma chamber and very slowly release the pressure so that outgassing happened through the borehole. And if you could degas the magma, any eruption would be a lot less severe.
    There is an obvious problem that you could trigger an eruption, of course, as well as the practical difficulty of drilling magma.

  11. Ed Yong says:

    The Daily Mash covered this beautifully:

    SCIENTISTS who accidentally drilled into a magma chamber under a volcano in Hawaii have broken the planet, it was confirmed last night.
    The experts drilled an exploratory well 2.5 km into the earth’s crust through the basalt lava fields of the Kilauea Volcano on the east of Hawaii’s Big Island, though Christ only knows why.
    By breaching the magma chamber the scientists punctured the earth and unleashed billions of tonnes of unstoppable molten rock, which you think someone might have thought about beforehand.
    Seismic data and lava flow rates examined by a committee of Nobel Laureates suggest the planet will now slowly deflate over the next six months like a burst football as everyone is boiled in their shoes.
    Professor Julian Cook, a magma specialist at Reading University, said: “Oh God, no. Christ on a bike and sweet baby Jesus.”
    He added: “Oh Christ almighty. No, no, no, no. Please baby Jesus, no.”
    Last night the UN Magma Emergency Committee (UNMEC) was convened on board the International Space Station comprising of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovitch, Peter Mandelson, choreographer Arlene Phillips, PR guru Max Clifford and Jamie Oliver.
    Oliver said: “People of earth, face your certain extinction with dignity and remember: heroes die, but they are remembered – for a while; cities fall, but they are rebuilt – although not in this case obviously.
    “We will now hand you over to Morgan Freeman who will comfort you by slowly reading out the ingredients for his grandmother’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies.”

  12. Lab Lemming says:

    Did they save the drill string?
    Also, seismic surveys are expensive, especially if historical ones from decades ago can be reprocessed.

  13. eddie says:

    Thank you, Ed Yong. I’m glad I was already lying down when I read that.