The New Today

Commentary

The environment vs geothermal drilling

The Government of Grenada has stated on numerous occasions its vision of becoming the Caribbean champion of sustainable energy. This includes using solar, wind and geothermal sources.

While this vision is to be applauded, particularly taking into account the ravages vested on the coastal areas of this beautiful island, some of it due to climate change, questions still remain as to the wisdom of exposing our vulnerable island to the consequences of drilling for geothermal energy in the light of what has been the outcome on other similar land spaces.

Presently in Martinique and St Vincent, volcanoes are very active, both have been subject to exploratory drilling for possible geothermal energy. St Vincent has recently become active again after a lapse of 42 years and Martinique’s Mt Pelee had not erupted since 1932 when it destroyed the town of Saint Pierre, killing more than 30,000 people.

In a recent statement, Prime Minister Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, informed the public that while a suitable temperature had been found in three wells, the desired level of permeability is absent. St Vincent is very close to Grenada and has similar topography, might this not also be the outcome in Grenada?

While the Eastern Caribbean is one long chain of active and extinct volcanoes, Kick-em Jenny in Grenada was very active in 2019, this makes many of us very nervous, particularly those living in the North of the island. Volcanologist, Erik Klemetti at Denison University in Ohio has said, the activity at Mt Pelee and La Soufriere are not related – it’s not like one volcano starts erupting that others will…. It falls into the category of coincidence.

He also added that scientists still do not have very good understanding of what controls how quickly magma lurking underground percolates and comes to the surface, adding that the answers are not entirely satisfying and still being researched, hardly reassuring for a country which already houses an active volcano, albeit underwater.

In recent programmes broadcast by Kellon Bubb, a freelance journalist, (see the Bubb report on Facebook), discussions were held regarding geothermal energy in Grenada with Raymond Nurse, a consultant who worked during the NDC administration between 2008/13 and Alexander Richter, from Iceland, who has worked in the field of geothermal energy for some time.

While both men made persuasive arguments for the inclusion of geothermal energy as the way forward for sustainability, no spokesperson was invited to put forward a different perspective such as the destruction of the environment at the foothills of Mt St Catherine.

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Mr Nurse, spoke several times of consultation having been held with Civil Society and various interest groups, while this might have been the case during the NDC administration, it has not been so in the more recent past when requests for consultation have been curtailed to a limited number of people per session and held at times not conducive for the people wishing to participate such as farmers.

In one incident, when consultation had been requested by farmers, a vehicle containing a number of police people from the RGPF arrived with the representatives, hardly conducive for a fair and open conversation.

The geothermal exploratory drilling is to take place in the foothills of Mt St Catherine, one of Grenada’s most valued beauty spots and an internationally renowned hikers’ trail.

This is one element which does not seem to have been properly aired throughout the planning stages of the project although Friends of the Earth – Grenada along with other members of civil society have given their viewpoints and appealed for the precautionary principle to be adhered to regarding the project.

The precautionary principle is a policy and strategy to cope with possible risks when the scientific understanding is not yet complete and as the volcanologist Erik Klemetti was quoted earlier as saying, the science is not yet satisfying and is still being researched, indicating very clearly that this instance would be very apt for exercising the precautionary principle.

We accept that we cannot prove that the drilling caused the eruption in St Vincent, it seems the scientists can’t prove that it didn’t. Therefore surely, it is better to err on the side of caution, protecting the safety of Grenada’s inhabitants and its fragile ecosystems.

Although it is to be a replacement for fossil fuels, Mr Richter stated clearly on the Bubb report that solar is by far the cheapest replacement energy and that we have in abundance.

It is also worth pondering on whether the purchasing of Grenlec at this point, might have relevance with regard to Geothermal drilling as it is understood that while they were committed to solar and wind energy, they were not so enamoured of the destruction of the environment, which will ensue if we pursue the geothermal project.

Once again Friends of the Earth- Grenada call for more transparency and dialogue in this matter.

(The above reflects the views of Friends of the Earth-Grenada)