The German town of Staufen is falling apart at the seams. The town of 8,100 residents, located on the edge of the Black Forest, decided to invest in geothermal energy back in 2007, aiming for a green energy future. Unfortunately, the decision backfired when the underground drilling went wrong causing hundreds of buildings to begin cracking apart.
The town rests on a layer of soft anhydrite, below which is a layer of groundwater confined to an aquifer. It was this combination which proved to be fatal for the Baden Württenburg hamlet. When the drills hit the groundwater, it poured into the anhydrate, which soon formed gypsum and expanded by about 50 percent. Over 270 buildings have suffered fractures in the ten years since and things don’t appear to be getting any better.
Photo: Ekem/Wikimedia Commons
“We’ve been in crisis mode for ten years,” Mayor Michael Benitz told news agency DPA. “It’s a slow-motion catastrophe. In combination with groundwater, this layer of earth turns into cement, expanding the layers and forcing the earth upwards.”
In some places the town of Staufen has risen nearly 62 centimeters and moved sideways by 45 centimeters, causing buildings to pull apart. Two houses have been demolished already, and the town fears that several more buildings will need to be torn down to avoid accidental collapsing. Demolitions are necessary because structures structures are not shifting uniformly, but instead different parts of a building are shifting by slightly different amounts, so repairs are virtually impossible.
The financial fallout for the residents is immense, with over 400 claims filed so far with a mediation body established to manage the crisis.
Photo: Baden de/Panoramio
“Fractures have become our daily companions,” resident Csaba-Peter Gaspar told The Local. His apartment is located in the town’s historic core and has suffered significant damage.
Pumps in Staufen are working around the clock to dredge groundwater and minimize imminent damage, but while they have helped reduce the buildup of cement and slow down the rise of the ground to millimeters from the initial phase of several centimeters, it is uncertain how long they will need to be in operation before things go back to normal
“I’m working on the assumption that we’ll be grappling with this problem for several more years, probably even decades,” Staufen’s mayor said.
Unfortunately, Staufen is not the only community suffering as a result of the botched geothermal drilling. Geologists from nearby Freiburg have reported similar issues unfolding in the nearby towns of Böblingen and Rudersberg.
Despite this serious catastrophe, the Berlin-based German Geothermal Association insists that the benefits outweighs the risks, and that geothermal energy remains a smart and environmentally sound option. Meanwhile, Staufen is in for decades of devastation and ballooning repair costs.