Lake County Town Blames Energy Company for Quake Problem

If it is true that Northern California is earthquake country, then the capital could be the small community of Anderson Springs in southern Lake County.

On average the town experiences two jarring quakes a day. Just last week, 24 quakes shook Anderson Springs. The two largest registered a magnitude 2.6 and 2.4. What most upsets the residents of Anderson Springs is that the earthquakes are manmade.

A huge geothermal plant borders Anderson Springs. The energy company Calpine relies on underground steam to turn turbines to produce electricity. Over the years, the steam has been depleted, so Calpine now injects nearly 9 million gallons of treated sewer water daily to reinvigorate the steam fields.

Since those injections began, residents in Anderson Springs say the earthquakes have become more frequent and more violent. "Oh, I feel them," said resident Allen Clay. "When the epicenter is less than a half a mile from you, you get a pretty good jolt."

The quakes are more than merely annoying, they have also damaged houses, leaving chimneys askew and cracking tile. Some homes are crumbling.

"You let a little woodpecker peck on the side of your house every day for 10 minutes?" said Clay. "At the end of a year how much house are you going to have left? Well, that's what they're doing to us here because every day it shakes and twists."

For more than a decade, Calpine denied responsibility. In a 1993 letter, Calpine's operations manager said the company's findings prove that "Whatever the origin is of the seismic shaking felt in Anderson Springs, it is not geothermal development in the southeast Geysers steam field."

Residents began doing their own research, and eventually got seismologists from the U.S. Geological Survey involved. After a decade of study, the experts agreed the residents were right.

Calpine now acknowledges its activities are causing earthquakes, but it does not intend to stop injecting water below ground. Although Calpine has promised to contribute $70,000 to a community fund that residents can use as they please, the company does not admit it damaged the homes. With many houses badly damaged, residents say the money is just a drop in the bucket.

News10's Dan Adams tried repeatedly to get a response from Calpine, but the company did not return his calls. When he approached a Calpine manager during a meeting in
Lake County, the manager refused to comment.

Story last updated Tuesday, November 16, 2004 - 4:38 PM



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