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Iceland Mag

Nature

Conservationists criticize plans for experimental boreholes by unique craters in Reykjanes peninsula

By Magnús Sveinn Helgason

  • A unique geological formaton Eldvörp is a 10 km (6.4 m) long chain of craters on Reykjanes peninsula. Although the area is rarely visited by travellers it is rich in natural beauty and dramatic lava formations. Significant geothermal activity around the craters creates steam plumes which rise from the lava. Photo/GVA.

A petition has been launched to protest plans by the power company HS Energy to drill experimental boreholes by the Eldvörp craters on Reykjanes peninsula. The Eldvörp craters are located within walking distance from the popular tourist destination the Blue Lagoon. Jóhann Garðar Þorbjörnsson, guide and biologist, who launched the online petition, argues the boreholes will destroy an absolutely unique natural formation which has enormous potential for tourism.

Jóhann Garðar told the local news site visir.is that he was inspired by the photographer Ellert Grétarsson, who has documented the nature of Reykjanes, including a video Ellert made this December to raise awareness of the great natural beauty of the area. 

Unique natural formation
Eldvörp is a 10 km (6.4 miles) chain of craters, stretching North-East to South-West within the municipality of Grindavík on the South Reykjanes peninsula. The North-East end of the crater chain is only 2 km (1.4 miles) to the west from the Blue Lagoon. The craters were formed in an eruption in 1211-1240, which produced the surrounding lava field. There is still considerable geological activity in the region, and steam plumes rise from the lava surrounding the craters.

Conservationists have pointed out the craters and surrounding are is a unique natural wonder: Their proximity to both the Capital region and Keflavík airport should make them a prime tourist destination. Still, although Eldvörp is within walking distance of the Blue Lagoon, they remain relatively rarely visited by tourists.

Ellert Grétarsson, the photographer, described Eldvörp in an interview with the local newspaper Morgunblaðið that the craters are “a miniature version of the Lakagígar craters in a half hour distance from an international airport.” The Lakagígar system is responsible for the deadliest and most powerful volcanic eruption since Iceland was settled. 

Read more: Harmful gases emitted at Holuhraun lava field stirs up memories of 18th century Laki eruption

Experimental boreholes for a 30-50 MW power plant
The energy company HS Orka has received the go-ahead to begin experimental drilling in the area. One experimental borehole was drilled by Eldvörp in 1983, but the current plan calls for five new boreholes to be drilled along the craters. These will add to the understanding of the nearby Svartsengi field and help determine whether power-generation in the Eldvörp area is feasible.

Despite the proximity of the Eldvörp area to the nearby Svartsengi system scientists believe the two systems are unconnected. The Svartsengi system, which the Svartsengi power plant, located by the Blue lagoon, produces water which is 220-230°C (428 -446°F) while the Eldvörp system has been shown to produce water which is 250-270°C (482-518°F). If the experimental boreholes do indeed show the two systems are unconnected they can easily be converted to power generation as more boreholes will be sunk to generate 30 MW- 50 MW, according to HS Orka.

The municipality of Grindavík issued a permit for the boreholes late last year, while HS Orka is expected to begin work this year. Five boreholes will be sunk along the craters with concrete platforms and other structures at each site, with roads and steam-pipes connecting the boreholes.

Irreversible damage to a unique area
Conservationists argue the experimental drilling will lead to a dramatic alteration of the area. Jóhann Garðar, who launched the petition to save Eldvörp. The petition, which was launched mid December argues the “geological wonderland of Eldvörp faces imminent danger as construction plans have been approved that will cause irreversible damage to this unique area.”

"Nowhere on earth can the geological activity between two tectonic plates be experienced as dramatically as here. One can enter the craters and walk between them through lava-tubes and caves. The value of Eldvörp for nature lovers is immense." 

Eldvörp, Grindavík, hraun,
Rugged and untouched nature The lava field around the craters Photo/GVA.

Jóhann Garðar will hand the petition to the mayor of Grindavík municipality and the representatives of HS Orka when it has reached at least 10,000 signatures. However Ragnar Róbertsson, the mayor of Grindavík, told the local news site vf.is that he doubts the petition will change anything. The decision has already been taken.

Róbert also told the local news site vf.is that the plans already made significant concessions to those committed to the conservation of the craters: “Initially the plan had been to drill the experimental holes right in the craters themselves.” The craters themselves would therefore not be harmed. At the end of the day Róbert believes that the experimental drilling will have much impact on tourism in the area. Power generation and nature-cantered tourism can easily coexist he tells vf.is. “Some people view any disruption of the landscape around the craters to be unacceptable, and I respect that point of view, but I disagree,” he added.

Eldvörp area is worth more untouched than used for energy generation
Jóhann Garðar rejects these arguments. HS Orka and the municipality of Grindavík are sacrificing valuable treasures for a very meager gain. The area holds far more potential if developed for tourism than energy production:

“It is absurd that people are preparing experimental drilling in an area which offers enormous opportunities for future tourism. The drilling will dramatically alter the area, and it will no longer be untouched, and it is untouched nature that gives Iceland the appeal it has. We in the tourism industry have seen that people are willing to come to Iceland and pay for this untouched natural beauty.”

You can sign the petition here: "We call on HS Orka and the Municipality of Grindavík to save Eldvörp"

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