Landsvirkjun operates two geothermal power stations in the northeast of Iceland: Krafla and Bjarnarflag. Landsvirkjun has been involved in the development of geothermal stations in the northeast of Iceland for a number of years. The Company’s next proposed projects are Þeistareykir and a new power station at Bjarnarflag. Research has indicated that these geothermal areas could offer extensive opportunities.
Research and monitoring
Extensive environmental research has been carried out as a result of the potential power projects in the northeast of Iceland. The aim of the research is to acquire knowledge of the area in order to monitor any changes that could come as a result of development in the area. This enables Landsvirkjun to implement mitigation measures when and if necessary.
Research projects include studies on groundwater flow, chemical composition of groundwater, vegetation and birdlife. Air quality, weather conditions, surface activity, soil temperature, gas emissions, seismic activity, geological changes, noise levels and changes to the surface (via aerial photographs) are also monitored. Ground levelling and gravity measurements have been conducted and research is being conducted on landscaping, recreation and tourism.
The natural environment in Mývatn is unique and Landsvirkjun is fully aware of the importance of responsible development in the vicinity of the lake. Extensive environmental research and monitoring has been carried out in connection with the current geothermal power station at Bjarnarflag and the potential power projects in the area. The focus is on the effect on groundwater, the concentration of hydrogen sulphide and the landscape.
Annual research and monitoring on surface geothermal activity in the Krafla area has been conducted for over four decades.
Negligible effect of effluent water discharge
Effluent water has been discharged into surface water since the Bjarnarflag Geothermal Power Station began operations over 40 years ago. Research shows that this has had a negligible effect on the temperature and chemical composition of groundwater. The effluent water is widely dispersed in the groundwater system and measurements show that the dilution is extensive (one hundred million fold). However, natural changes to groundwater temperatures have been significant. Temperatures rose during the Krafla Fires (1975- 1984) and are still higher than they were before the fires.
A large percentage of the warm groundwater flow entering the Mývatn Lake could in fact originate from the Krafla area.
Geothermal gas emissions
Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) is a naturally occurring gas in geothermal areas and concentration levels can vary between areas. Geothermal gas is mostly made up of carbon dioxide (80-95%) and hydrogen sulphide (5-20%). Other gases make up a much smaller percentage (< 1%).
One of the main environmental effects of utilising geothermal energy is the release of geothermal gases into the environment. Landsvirkjun has closely monitored the concentration of hydrogen sulphide, as a result of geothermal energy utilisation in the area, since February, 2011. The concentration levels have been measured in Reykjahlíð by Mývatn and in other monitoring stations taken into operation in 2014. Measurements indicate that concentration levels do not surpass public health limits. A further discussion on geothermal gas emissions can be found in the chapter on air quality.
Landsvirkjun has closely monitored hydrogen sulphide levels in the northeast of Iceland since February, 2011.
A review of the EIA for Bjarnarflag
The Bjarnarflag project has inspired public debate and a review of environmental and utilisation matters in the Mývatn area.
The Icelandic National Planning Agency released its findings on the environmental impact of a geothermal station at Bjarnarflag in February, 2004. The law dictates that development must begin within ten years. Once this period of time has elapsed, the Icelandic National Planning Agency has the authority to review the EIA entirely, or in part, before re-issuing the development permit.
Landsvirkjun asked EFLA Consulting Engineers to conduct a review of the EIA from 2004. The review took into consideration research, monitoring, inspections and development work completed (since the EIA was completed). EFLA concluded that there were no significant changes to the baseline or to the legal framework that would require a complete new assessment. The discussion on seismic activity within the report is however not fully comprehensive and an insubstantial assessment of ‘seismic hazard’ could call for a review on this particular section. The action and monitoring plan within the EIA is in keeping with the verdict released by the Icelandic National Planning Agency. However, additional proposals with regard to monitoring research, the frequency of measurements, methods and the presentation of data, have been put forward. The Icelandic National Planning Agency will now assess the need for a complete or partial review of the EIA.
Main projects in the northeast in 2013
- Landsvirkjun developed a communication plan for stakeholders in the Northeast of Iceland. The Communication Plan is a development project created to minimise uncertainty and to prevent any breakdown in communication between Landsvirkjun and its stakeholders.
- Research on the impact of geothermal energy utilisation on the warm groundwater flow to Mývatn was conducted in 2013. The results show that there has been no change in the temperature or chemical composition of groundwater in the area which could be attributed to geothermal energy utilisation. However, significant natural changes have occurred since the Krafla Fires.
- The North East Iceland Nature Center is responsible for research on vegetation and birdlife in the affected areas of the potential and current power stations in Þeistareykir, Bjarnaflag and Krafla. Monitoring began with basic mapping in the summer of 2012 and this continued into 2013. The coverage of species and species groups in vegetated areas by Þeistareykir and Krafla is being monitored. The spread of rare, high temperature tolerant vegetation is being monitored at Bjarnarflag. Birdlife monitoring includes the density of nesting areas for heathland birds, the presence of falcon nests and the falcon offspring survival rate in the vicinity of the Þeistareykir Geothermal Station.
- Research work began on noise levels at the Krafla Geothermal Station and the potential power stations at Bjarnarflag and Þeistareykir. The project will be active for at least five years. There are plans to set-up a continuous monitoring system in the summer of 2014 which will monitor the noise levels in all three areas. Subsequently, the regularity of monitoring will increase at the current power stations at Krafla and Bjarnarflag. Weather monitoring stations will also be set up as noise level monitoring requires detailed weather information.
- Road construction on the Þeistareykjavegur road continued in 2013. Work proceeded on landscaping disturbed land in the area with the aim of harmonising it with the surrounding vegetation and landscape.
- Two university students, studying architecture and landscape architecture, were involved in research projects for Landsvirkjun at Þeistareykir and Bjarnarflag. The project focused on landscaping disturbed land as a result of piping, borehole areas, borehole structures, mufflers and roads. The aim of the project is to find ways to further minimise the negative impact of unavoidable disturbance to the land as a result of preparation work for the power projects. More information can be found on the project in the chapter on visual impact.