At Basel Fair, Movers and Shakers, High Prices and Blue
ID NAME: Nxxx,2006-06-15,E,007,Bs-BW,E1
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THE NEW YORK TIMES, THURSDAY, JUNE 15, 2006
At Basel Fair, Movers and Shakers, High Prices and Blue-Chip Artists
Continued From First Arts Page
tects Herzog & de Meuron.
People-watching is every bit as much the
allure here as the art. Spotted either perusing the booths or at some of the countless
parties were Michael Ovitz, the Hollywood
agent; Peter Brant, the newsprint magnate; the real estate developer Aby Rosen;
Henry R. Kravis, the financier; and the actors Michael York and Faye Dunaway.
Many artists were on hand too, among
them the photographer Andreas Gursky, the
Japanese artist and curator Takashi Murakami and the Pop artist James Rosenquist.
At “Unlimited,’’ a section where large art
installations are on view, Acquavella Galleries is showing Mr. Rosenquist’s giant 24by-133-foot painting “Celebrating the 50th
Anniversary of the Signing of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights by Eleanor
Depicting a trio of hands reaching into a
vortex of swirling colors, it had originally
been intended for the ceiling of the Palais de
Chaillot in Paris as a way of commemorating the 50th anniversary of the adoption of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
in 1998. The dealer William Acquavella said
that it was now for sale and that an American museum had expressed interest. He declined to elaborate.
Pop Art, figurative painting, installation
pieces and contemporary Chinese art — all
a major focus in contemporary-art collecting today — were much in evidence. So were
top works by hot artists like Richard Prince,
Cindy Sherman, Tony Oursler, Mr. Murakami, John Currin, Ed Ruscha and Dinos and
Many felt the offerings were more predictable than in past years, making the fair
a venue for acquiring blue-chip artists rather than discovering new talent. “There are
less surprises,” said Zach Feuer, the Chelsea dealer. “The oversaturation of art fairs
means there’s one every three weeks. But of
all of them, this is the best.’’
Jay Jopling, who runs the London gallery
White Cube, said such fairs were a way of focusing collectors’ attention so they would
Photographs by Christian Flierl for The New York Times
A 1998 work by James Rosenquist originally intended for the Palais de Chaillot in Paris; right, the entrance to Art Basel.
make decisions. Like auctions, the now-ornever experience gets their adrenaline
pumping. Already spoken for in Mr. Jopling’s booth is “All Good Things Must Come
to an End,’’ one of the London-based Chapman brothers’ “Hell-scapes,’’ as the pair
call their fantastical environments decorated with lead toy figures.
Works that would normally sit unnoticed
for months in a gallery may sell at Art Basel. An installation of sculptures from 195960 by James Lee Byars, a pioneer of the
Fluxus movement, sold within 10 minutes of
the opening preview at Michael Werner,
whose galleries are in New York and Co-
Gordon VeneKlasen, Mr. Werner’s business partner, said that Byars’s work was
not normally snapped up that fast. “But at
an art fair everyone gets excited,’’ he said.
“It becomes a discovery.’’ He declined to
identify the buyer.
A striking abstract $1 million painting by
Sigmar Polke that the artist began in 1983
and added to in 1992, also went immediately
at Michael Werner. Mr. VeneKlasen would
not name the buyer, but some collectors at
the fair said they had been told that it went
to a trustee of the Solomon R. Guggenheim
Museum in New York.
Some works are headed for museums and
foundations. Mr. Segalot handled the purchase of “3 Heads Fountain (3 Andrews),’’ a
2005 installation by Bruce Nauman, for the
French luxury-goods magnate François Pinault. Mr. Pinault plans to show the work,
sold by Donald Young, a Chicago dealer, at
the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, the new home
of his contemporary art collection.
Blum & Poe, the Los Angeles dealers, sold
“727-727,’’ a triptych completed by Mr.
Murakami just two weeks ago, for a reported $1.5 million to an unidentified buyer.
It features Dob, a cartoonlike character
with sharp teeth. “I had five, six, seven peo-
ple queuing for it,’’ said Tim Blum, one of
the gallery’s owners, adding that he was
frustrated to disappoint those who were
Modern masters like Picasso and de Kooning were selling briskly too. A colorful untitled de Kooning from the 1970’s sold within
hours of the preview opening at PaceWildenstein. Arne Glimcher, the gallery’s
chairman, would not divulge the price or the
buyer, but few secrets are kept at Art Basel.
Several dealers said the price was $15.5 million and the buyer was thought to be David
Martinez, the financier.
Late Picassos have been all the rage at
auction. The London dealer Thomas Gibson
said the 1969 painting “Man With Pipe,’’ offered for $10 million and $15 million, was “on
reserve’’ for a buyer he did not name.
Few buyers seemed surprised by the high
prices, but many marveled at the diversity
of today’s players. “Art Basel has always
been international,’’ said Samuel Keller, the
fair’s director. “But this year there we’ve
had several delegations from China, collectors from Russia and Dubai. And for the
first time we’ve also seen Indian buyers.’’
A Teenage TV Star Takes On a New Role: Warrior
Continued From First Arts Page
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Kate Burton and Tony Goldwyn in “The Water’s Edge” at Second Stage.
Dad’s Back. Cue Greek Chorus.
Continued From First Arts Page
union in the company of a pneumatic, much
younger girlfriend, Lucy (Katharine Powell). As Erica, who obviously knows her literary references, says, “This clearly is not
going to turn into ‘A Winter’s Tale,’ with everyone hugging and being so glad.”
For the first half of “The Water’s Edge,”
directed with an unswervingly straight face
by Will Frears, it looks as if Ms. Rebeck
might pull off her mix of classical darkness
and latter-day levity. The venturesome author (with Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros)
of “Omnium Gatherum,” about a dinner
party in hell in the wake of 9/11, and “The
Scene,” which was the toast of this year’s
Humana Festival of new plays, Ms. Rebeck
has a gift for lively dialogue teasingly layered in ambivalence.
If the dramatic setup of “The Water’s
Edge” feels contrived, the emotional responses it elicits from its characters are
often engagingly authentic. The relationships among Helen and her children are especially well drawn, with entire, complex
histories summoned in quick bursts of
words. And in Act I and the beginning of Act
II, Ms. Rebeck stealthily weaves ominous
shadows through the bright, sharp banter of
battling family members. (The same mixed
sensibility is evident in Alexander Dodge’s
claustrophobic, sylvan set, featuring a looming house with white columns that suggests
a scaled-down version of the mansion in Eugene O’Neill’s “Mourning Becomes Electra.”)
When the play takes a screeching U-turn
into grotesqueness, you can’t say that Ms.
The Water’s Edge
By Theresa Rebeck; directed by Will Frears; sets by
Alexander Dodge; costumes by Junghyun Georgia
Lee; lighting by Frances Aronson; sound by Vincent
Olivieri; original music by Michael Friedman; production stage manager, Roy Harris; stage manager, Shanna Spinello. Presented by the Second Stage Theater,
Carole Rothman, artistic director; Ellen Richard, interim executive director; Christopher Burney, associate artistic director; C. Barrack Evans, general manager; Jeff Wild, production manager. At the Second
Stage Theater, 307 West 43rd Street, Clinton, (212) 2464422. Through July 9. Running time: 2 hours.
WITH: Kate Burton (Helen), Tony Goldwyn (Richard), Mamie Gummer (Erica), Austin Lysy (Nate)
and Katharine Powell (Lucy).
Rebeck hasn’t prepared you. Look back and
you’ll realize that she has signaled every detail of what happens in the final scenes. But
what fascinated as subtext feels crude and
clumsy when it’s dragged so blatantly to the
surface. Ms. Rebeck’s hitherto fleet-footed
dialogue turns lumbering and clunky, suggesting O’Neill at his most earnestly Freudian. Worse, the play’s second act negates
what was good about its earlier scenes because it feels as if everything has been harnessed in the service of a single conceptual
Ms. Burton, a Tony nominee this year for
“The Constant Wife,” bears the principal
burden of the play’s ponderousness. Accomplished pro that she is, she does it beautifully, making surprisingly light work of a
wooden Clytemnestraish monologue in the
final scene. Once again she proves herself
one of our most flexible and resourceful actresses.
It is the less well-known performers,
though, who make “The Water’s Edge” essential viewing for those on the watch for
fresh talent. Ms. Gummer brings a crackling electricity to Erica’s anger that recalls
the young Meryl Streep (who happens to be
Ms. Gummer’s mother), at her hostile best,
in Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.” Mr. Lysy’s
touchingly eloquent awkwardness resharpens the edges of the archetypal young man
frozen in eternal adolescence. And Ms. Powell is charmingly ill at ease as an equally familiar character, the girl who always winds
up with Mr. Wrong.
Mr. Wrong himself is the least interesting
figure here. Though Mr. Goldwyn, a firstrate actor, does what he can with the fatuous Richard, he doesn’t keep the character
from seeming like a human bull’s-eye in
search of a bullet. (Just so you know, he
takes all his clothes off in a scene guaranteed to send many middle-aged men
straight to the gym in competitive envy.)
What with “The Water’s Edge” arriving
on the dude-stomping heels of Neil LaBute’s
“Some Girl(s),” this is turning out to be
“Kick a Man When He’s Up Month.” Like
Mr. LaBute’s play, which opened last week
at the Lucille Lortel Theater, “The Water’s
Edge” presents a success-drunk womanizer
who is just asking for a punch in the mouth
or, more accurately, somewhere lower. Alpha males of New York with easily wounded
feelings might want to avoid Off Broadway
for a while.
in an early script, incidentally, was Paris,
an apparent allusion to another hotel heiress). Unlike London, Wendy is the daughter
of two obviously loving, involved parents, as
is Ms. Song, whose father teaches second
grade and whose mother is a homemaker,
and whose family (including two brothers)
relocated from Sacramento to Los Angeles
when she was 6 to support her nascent acting career.
“I think sometimes it’s hard for London,’’
Ms. Song said. “She doesn’t really have parents. No one can say no to her. No one can
tell her something is wrong. Imagine if you
never saw your dad?’’
Ms. Song and her latest character also
share an expertise in the martial arts, another distinction from London, whose idea of
a workout in one episode was to go to the
gym to raise and lower heavy shopping
bags. While Wendy becomes skilled in kung
fu, Ms. Song earned a black belt in tae kwan
do at 14, having practiced, at times, an hour
or more a day, six days a week.
“I love to spar and to fight,’’ she said,
though learning kung fu, which can be as fluid as tae kwan do is jarring, required some
adjustments. “They’re as different as ballet
and hip-hop,’’ she said. “I had to learn how to
work more with my hands. On top of that, we
had to learn how to stunt-fight.’’
In a bit of corporate synergy that only
Disney could imagine, Ms. Song trained for
“Wendy Wu’’ under Koichi Sakamoto, executive producer of the channel’s “Power
Rangers’’ series, which marries martial
arts to science fiction. To accommodate Mr.
Sakamoto, who also directed the action sequences of “Wendy,’’ the movie was filmed
in New Zealand, as is “Power Rangers.’’
But “Wendy Wu’’ wouldn’t be a Disney
production if it didn’t also have an underlying message for young people, and
there too Ms. Song says she can relate. Wendy is a second-generation Chinese-American, and in the movie she and her family are
seen struggling with the tension between
embracing and renouncing their cultural
For example Wendy’s father ends one dinner by angrily pushing away a moon cake, a
pastry associated with the Chinese midautumn festival that, in this instance, triggers memories much as Proust’s madeleine
might. So that this scene, and others, would
have some authenticity, it was reviewed
closely before filming by Yunxiang Yan, a
professor of anthropology at the University
of California, Los Angeles, and co-director
of the university’s center for Chinese studies.
“I always feel a movie can do a lot in
terms of influence,’’ Professor Yan said in a
telephone interview. “In the movie you get
the impression that cultural heritage is
something in your genes. It just needs to be
awakened and you get it back. Hopefully it
will also deliver another side of this message: the importance of cultural heritage,
and that it takes effort from all generations.’’
Ms. Song’s parents were both born in
Asia. Her father is Hmong and was raised in
a tribe that traversed the mountains of
Thailand and Laos. Her mother was born
Thai but adopted into a Hmong family. They
met, Ms. Song said, as adults in Sacramento.
Ms. Song said she realized, while making
the movie, that she knew little about the nomadic Hmong people, and as a result began
peppering her parents with questions about
Celebrating her Asian
heritage and employing
some martial arts moves.
their food and ceremonial dress. “Here I am
telling kids, ‘Don’t lose your heritage,’ ” she
said, “and I’m losing mine.”
Ms. Song said that when Disney first approached her several years ago about “Wendy Wu,’’ it was pitched as a situation comedy in which she would play a Chinese princess who sought to reawaken the warrior
within an unsuspecting boy. But soon the
project evolved into a star vehicle for Ms.
Song, who, before “The Suite Life,’’ was introduced to Disney Channel audiences
through roles on the series “Phil of the Future’’ and in the movies “Get a Clue’’ (with
Lindsay Lohan) and “Stuck in the Suburbs.’’
Ms. Song, whose father used to show her
classic kung fu movies like “Five Deadly
Venoms’’ and “The Leg Fighters,’’ said
“Wendy Wu’’ had appealed to her not only as
a martial arts movie for her own generation, but also because it featured an AsianAmerican woman in a strong lead role.
“Growing up,’’ she said, “I never saw
Asian-Americans on TV at all.’’
Ms. Song’s path to children’s television
stardom began on a stroll through a Sacramento mall when she was 3. Her family was
approached by the owner of a modeling
school. Already aware at that young age
what a commercial was — she said she was
fascinated by images of Cindy Crawford
pitching Pepsi in a Lamborghini — the
young Ms. Song persuaded her parents to
scrape together $500 from relatives to enroll
her. A commercial for Little Caesars Pizza
when she was 5, she said, led to a number of
other commercials, many of them for Mattel products like Barbie.
“I did a lot of food chains,’’ she said. “Me, I
love to eat. I was the only girl where, when
they would say, ‘Do you want to spit it out?’
I’d say, ‘No, I’ll eat it.’ ’’
Through home schooling, Ms. Song earned
a high school diploma at 16, and she has
since taken college courses online. Eventually, she said, she hopes to become a fulltime student of business and psychology.
But for now, she said, she intends to ride the
wave of her acting career as far as it takes
her, including what she presumes will be at
least another season on “The Suite Life.’’
After watching Ms. Song survive the rigors of her “Wendy Wu’’ training — which included being suspended for hours in a stunt
harness tethered to wires, even after damaging ligaments in one of her ankles — Mr.
Sakamoto said he would happily hire her not
just as an actress but as a stunt double.
“Brenda would make an excellent Power
Ranger,’’ he said.
Brenda Song and Shin Koyamada in the movie “Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior.”
Armory’s Opera Debut Delayed by Lincoln Center
Continued From First Arts Page
cost estimates were, or what caused them to
be considered too high. In announcing the
performances in January, Lincoln Center
officials said it would create a “unique performance space” inside the armory to “realize the full impact of this remarkable presentation.”
Ms. McMahon said the armory was chosen precisely because of its height, ideal for
the 32-by-18-foot screen used in the production. But Lincoln Center said in a statement
on Wednesday, “It became apparent that existing air-conditioning, restroom and other
patron amenities would be inadequate for
the expected number of ticket holders, and
anticipated alterations would be prohibi-
tively expensive to install in time for the
Ms. McMahon said those amenities included a box office and emergency exits to
serve an expected seating capacity of 1,800
people. But it was unclear who was paying
“The whole project was a joint production
with the armory,” Ms. McMahon said, declining to give a breakdown.
But Ms. Robertson said the armory was
paying only to install air conditioning, which
it had planned to do anyway. “We just fasttracked it so it could get done in time for
‘Tristan,’ ” she said.
Ms. McMahon said “transition” in leadership at the armory delayed budgeting and
Ms. Robertson declined to comment on
that point. “Our part of the deal was to provide raw space in its current form and an
air-conditioned Drill Hall,” she said.
Ms. McMahon said the production would
go forward unchanged at Fisher Hall. An extension to the stage will allow the installation of the large screen, she added.
In the Los Angeles production Mr. Viola’s
images displayed on the screen included
surf breaking to the rhythms of the music,
lovers swimming under water, bleak forests
and freighters sailing at night. The New
York Philharmonic’s spokesman, Eric Latzky, interviewed by telephone from Parma,
Italy, where the orchestra is on tour, said
the glitch would not affect the orchestra’s
plans to move some concerts to the armory.
THE NEW YORK TIMES NATIONAL WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24, 2009
CHRISTIAN FLIERI FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
CHRISTIAN FLIERI FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
JIM WILSON FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
An earthquake halted Markus O. Häring’s
geothermal project in Basel, Switzerland.
Seismologists say the drilling of bedrock caused the Basel earthquake in 2006. Residents in
Northern California fear that a similar project by AltaRock Energy may cause larger quakes.
James T. Turner of AltaRock said its systems were safer than those used in Basel.
In Bedrock, Clean Energy and Earthquake Fears
From Page A1
barked at them to go get the story, said
Philipp Loser, 28, a reporter there.
Aysel Mermer, 25, a waitress at the
Restaurant Schiff near the Rhine River,
said she thought a bomb had gone off.
Eveline Meyer, 44, a receptionist at a
maritime exhibition, was on the phone
with a friend and thought that her washing machine had, all by itself, started
clattering with an unbalanced load. “I
was saying to my friend, ‘Am I now
completely nuts?’“ Ms. Meyer recalled.
Then, she said, the line went dead.
Mr. Häring was rushed to police
headquarters in a squad car so he could
explain what had happened. By the time
word slipped out that the project had set
off the earthquake, Mr. Loser said, outrage was sweeping the city. The earthquakes, including three more above
magnitude 3, rattled on for about a year
— more than 3,500 in all, according to
the company’s sensors.
Although no serious injuries were reported, Geothermal Explorers’ insurance company ultimately paid more
than $8 million in mostly minor damage
claims to the owners of thousands of
houses in Switzerland and in neighboring Germany and France.
Optimism and Opportunity
In the United States, where the Basel
earthquakes received little news coverage, the fortunes of geothermal energy
were already on a dizzying rise. The optimistic conclusions of the Energy Department’s geothermal report began
driving interest from investors, as word
trickled out before its official release.
In fall 2006, after some of the findings
were presented at a trade meeting, Trae
Vassallo, a partner at the firm Kleiner
Perkins, phoned Ms. Petty, the geothermal researcher who was one of 18 authors on the report, according to e-mail
messages from both women. That call
eventually led Ms. Petty to found AltaRock and bring in, by Ms. Petty’s tally,
another six of the authors as consultants to the company or in other roles.
J. David Rogers, a professor and geological engineer at the Missouri University of Science and Technology who
was not involved in the report, said such
ONLINE: CAPTURING ENERGY
An interactive graphic shows how a
project financed by the Energy
Department intends to capture
geothermal energy from hot bedrock.
overlap of research and commercial interests was common in science and engineering but added that it might be
perceived as a conflict of interest. “It’s
very, very satisfying to see something
go from theory to application to actually
making money and being accepted by
society,” Professor Rogers said. “It’s
what every scientist dreams of.”
Ms. Petty said that her first “serious
discussions” with Ms. Vassallo about
forming a company did not come until
the report was officially released in late
January 2007. That June, Ms. Petty
founded AltaRock with $4 million from
Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures,
an investment firm based in California.
The Basel earthquake hit more than a
month before the Energy Department’s
report came out, but no reference to it
was included in the report’s spare and
reassuring references to earthquake
risks. Ms. Petty said the document had
already been at the printer by the fall,
“so there was no way we could have included the Basel event in the report.”
Officials at AltaRock, with offices in
Sausalito, Calif., and Seattle, insist that
the company has learned the lessons of
Basel and that its own studies indicate
the project can be carried out safely.
James T. Turner, AltaRock’s senior vice
president for operations, said the company had applied for roughly 20 patents
on ways to improve the method.
Mr. Turner also asserted in a visit to
the project site last month that AltaRock’s monitoring and fail-safe systems
were superior to those used in Basel.
“We think it’s going to be pretty
neat,” Mr. Turner said as he stood next
to a rig where the company plans to drill
a hole almost two and a half miles deep.
“And when it’s successful, we’ll have a
good-news story that says we can ex-
The Danger of Digging Deeper
Cool water is pumped
into cracks and
heated by the rocks.
Hot water is extracted
to run turbines in
A new project financed by the Energy
Department aims to capture geothermal
energy from hot bedrock. But the rock
must be broken up to extract the heat,
and that process creates earthquakes.
For decades, energy companies have
been drilling into a sandstone like rock
called graywacke that is heated by hot
The Next Step
The new project will drill miles deeper,
into the felsite rock that intrudes into the
graywacke, causing the rock to shift and
break — and generate earthquakes.
The start-up company running the
project, AltaRock Energy, says that
the small tremors are negligible and
that large quakes can be avoided by
controlling the fractures and staying
away from known faults.
High-pressure water will
create a network of
fractures through the
granite-like rock, making
space for water to reach
the rock’s heat.
On Shaky Ground
The project site is near an
area laced with faults, and is
shaken daily by earthquakes.
The energy companies all
concede that they set off
Larger tremors follow the same pattern,
suggesting that they are also triggered,
although one company denies it.
and that it can operate safely.
But in a report on seismic impact that
AltaRock was required to file, the company failed to mention that the Basel
program was shut down because of the
earthquake it caused. AltaRock claimed
it was uncertain that the project had
caused the quake, even though Swiss
government seismologists and officials
on the Basel project agreed that it did.
Nor did AltaRock mention the thousands of smaller earthquakes induced
by the Basel project that continued for
months after it shut down.
The California project is the first of
dozens that could be operating in the
United States in the next several years,
driven by a push to cut emissions of
heat-trapping gases and the Obama administration’s support for renewable
Geothermal’s potential as a clean energy source has raised huge hopes, and
its advocates believe it could put a significant dent in American dependence
on fossil fuels — potentially supplying
roughly 15 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030, according to one estimate by Google. The earth’s heat is always there waiting to be tapped, unlike
wind and solar power, which are intermittent and thus more fickle. According to a 2007 geothermal report financed by the Energy Department, advanced geothermal power could in theory produce as much as 60,000 times the
nation’s annual energy usage. President
Obama, in a news conference Tuesday,
cited geothermal power as part of the
“clean energy transformation” that a
climate bill now before Congress could
Dan W. Reicher, an assistant energy
secretary in the Clinton administration
who is now director of climate change
and energy at Google’s investment and
philanthropic arm, said geothermal energy had “the potential to deliver vast
amounts of power almost anywhere in
the world, 24/7.”
Power companies have long produced
limited amounts of geothermal energy
by tapping shallow steam beds, often
beneath geysers or vents called fumaroles. Even those projects can induce
earthquakes, although most are small.
But for geothermal energy to be used
more widely, engineers need to find a
way to draw on the heat at deeper levels
percolating in the earth’s core.
Some geothermal advocates believe
the method used in Basel, and to be
tried in California, could be that breakthrough. But because large earthquakes
tend to originate at great depths, breaking rock that far down carries more serious risk, seismologists say. Seismologists have long known that human activities can trigger quakes, but they say
the science is not developed enough to
say for certain what will or will not set
off a major temblor.
Even so, there is no shortage of
money for testing the idea. Mr. Reicher
has overseen a $6.25 million investment
by Google in AltaRock, and with more
than $200 million in new federal money
for geothermal, the Energy Department
has already approved financing for related projects in Idaho by the University
of Utah; in Nevada by Ormat Technologies; and in California by Calpine, just a
few miles from AltaRock’s project.
Steven E. Koonin, the under secretary for science at the Energy Department, said the earthquake issue was
new to him, but added, “We’re committed to doing things in a factual and rigorous way, and if there is a problem, we
will attend to it.”
The tone is more urgent in Europe.
“This was my main question to the experts: Can you exclude that there is a
major earthquake triggered by this
man-made activity?” said Rudolf
Braun, chairman of the project team
that the City of Basel created to study
the risks of resuming the project.
“I was quite surprised that all of them
said: ‘No, we can’t. We can’t exclude
it,’“ said Mr. Braun, whose study is due
“It would be just unfortunate if, in the
United States, you rush ahead and don’t
take into account what happened here,”
ture, the technique created earthquakes
because it requires injecting water at
great pressure down drilled holes to
fracture the deep bedrock. The opening
of each fracture is, literally, a tiny earthquake in which subterranean stresses
rip apart a weak vein, crack or fault in
the rock. The high-pressure water can
be thought of loosely as a lubricant that
makes it easier for those forces to slide
the earth along the weak points, creating a web or network of fractures.
Mr. Häring planned to use that network as the ultimate teapot, circulating
water through the fractures and hoping
it emerged as steam. But what surprised him that afternoon was the intensity of the quakes because advocates of
the method believe they can pull off a
delicate balancing act, tearing the rock
without creating larger earthquakes.
Alarmed, Mr. Häring and other company officials decided to release all
pressure in the well to try to halt the
fracturing. But as they stood a few miles
from the drill site, giving the orders by
speakerphone to workers atop the hole,
a much bigger jolt shook the room.
“I think that was us,” said one
Analysis of seismic data proved him
correct. The quake measured 3.4 —
modest in some parts of the world. But
triggered quakes tend to be shallower
than natural ones, and residents generally describe them as a single, explosive
bang or jolt — often out of proportion to
the magnitude — rather than a rumble.
Triggered quakes are also frequently
accompanied by an “air shock,” a loud
tearing or roaring noise.
The noise “made me feel it was some
sort of supersonic aircraft going overhead,” said Heinrich Schwendener, who,
as president of Geopower Basel, the
consortium that includes Geothermal
Explorers and the utility companies,
was standing next to the borehole.
“It took me maybe half a minute to realize, hey, this is not a supersonic plane,
this is my well,” Mr. Schwendener said.
By that time, much of the city was in
an uproar. In the newsroom of the city’s
main paper, Basler Zeitung, reporters
dived under tables and desks, some refusing to move until a veteran editor
Basel’s Big Shock
By the time people were getting off
work amid rain squalls in Basel on Dec.
8, 2006, Mr. Häring’s problems had already begun. His incision into the
ground was setting off small earthquakes that people were starting to feel
around the city.
Mr. Häring knew that by its very na-
1.0 to 3.0
Sources: Northern California Earthquake Data Center; California Geological Survey; AltaRock
larger than 3.0
ERIN AIGNER, HANNAH FAIRFIELD, XAQUÍN G.V./THE NEW YORK TIMES
tend geothermal energy.”
AltaRock, in its seismic activity report, included the Basel earthquake in a
list of temblors near geothermal
projects, but the company denied that it
had left out crucial details of the quake
in seeking approval for the project in
California. So far, the company has received its permit from the federal Bureau of Land Management to drill its
first hole on land leased to the Northern
California Power Agency, but still
awaits a second permit to fracture rock.
“We did discuss Basel, in particular,
the 3.4 event, with the B.L.M. early in
the project,” Mr. Turner said in an
e-mail response to questions after the
But Richard Estabrook, a petroleum
engineer in the Ukiah, Calif., field office
of the land agency who has a lead role in
granting the necessary federal permits,
gave a different account when asked if
he knew that the Basel project had shut
down because of earthquakes or that it
had induced more than 3,500 quakes.
“I’ll be honest,” he said. “I didn’t
Mr. Estabrook said he was still leaning toward giving approval if the company agreed to controls that could stop
the work if it set off earthquakes above
a certain intensity. But, he said, speaking of the Basel project’s shutdown, “I
wish that had been disclosed.”
Bracing for Tremors
There was a time when Anderson
Springs, about two miles from the
project site, had few earthquakes — no
more than anywhere else in the hills of
Northern California. Over cookies and
tea in the cabin his family has owned
since 1958, Tom Grant and his sister
Cynthia Lora reminisced with their
spouses over visiting the town, once famous for its mineral baths, in the 1940s
and ’50s. “I never felt an earthquake up
here,” Mr. Grant said .
Then came a frenzy of drilling for underground steam just to the west at The
Geysers, a roughly 30-square-mile
patch of wooded hills threaded with
huge, curving tubes and squat power
plants. The Geysers is the nation’s largest producer of traditional geothermal
energy. Government seismologists confirm that earthquakes were far less frequent in the past and that the geothermal project produces as many as 1,000
small earthquakes a year as the ground
expands and contracts like an enormous sponge with the extraction of
steam and the injection of water to replace it.
These days, Anderson Springs is a
mixed community of working class and
retired residents, affluent professionals
and a smattering of artists. Everyone
has a story about earthquakes. There
are cats that suddenly leap in terror,
guests who have to be warned about
tremors, thousands of dollars of repairs
to walls and cabinets that just do not
want to stay together.
Residents have been fighting for
years with California power companies
over the earthquakes, occasionally winning modest financial compensation.
But the obscure nature of earthquakes
always gives the companies an out, says
Douglas Bartlett, who works in marketing at Bay Area Rapid Transit in San
Francisco, and with his wife, Susan,
owns a bungalow in town.
“If they were creating tornadoes,
they would be shut down immediately,”
Mr. Bartlett said. “But because it’s under the ground, where you can’t see it,
and somewhat conjectural, they keep
Now, the residents are bracing for
more. As David Oppenheimer, a seismologist at the United States Geological
Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., explains it,
The Geysers is heated by magma welling up from deep in the earth. Above the
magma is a layer of granite-like rock
called felsite, which transmits heat to a
thick layer of sandstone-like material
called graywacke, riddled with fractures and filled with steam.
The steam is what originally drew the
power companies here. But the AltaRock project will, for the first time, drill
deep into the felsite. Mr. Turner said
that AltaRock, which will drill on federal
land leased by the Northern California
Power Agency, had calculated that the
number of earthquakes felt by residents
in Anderson Springs and local communities would not noticeably increase.
But many residents are skeptical.
“It’s terrifying,” said Susan Bartlett,
who works as a new patient coordinator
at the Pacific Fertility Center in San
Francisco. “What’s happening to all
these rocks that they’re busting into a