Published April 1973 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd A Clean Fuel Beneath the Earth The disturbing fuel shortages that have brought school and factory closings in several U.S. areas this winter have focused new attention on the possibility of tapping the heat which lies beneath the surface of the earth. Civilization's use of geothermal energy is not just a science-fiction dream. At Larderello, Italy, for example, steam from beneath the earth's crust has turned electric generators since early in this century; and other more recent commercial applications exist in California and elsewhere. One has only to watch the geysers erupt in the national parks of our own West to set> a sample of the subterranean energy which lies waiting to be harnessed. Interest in the ready-made power which exists deep within the earth is growing in Congress, and hills arc being drafted to spur geothermal research and development. The Department of Interior is preparing to offer for lease some 59 million acres of federal land in western states for geothermal exploration. At least one million acres of these lands are already known to have, beneath their surfaces, naturally boiling water and steam. The full geographical extent of such potential pools of power is not yet known. Hot springs, for example, exist in Appalachia. But no detailed study of this phenomenon has been made, for instance, in the West Virginia area, probably because the possibility of commercial use appears remote; although some interest in such a study has been expressed from time to time. The possibility of utilizing geothermal energy elsewhere, however, does not appear at all remote. A National Science Foundation report has estimated that as much as a third of U.S. electric power could be generated by heat from the earth's core by as early as 1985. At least half a dozen big U.S. oil companies are now doing exploratory drilling for geothermal power, and the trend is expected to grow. Like solar energy, geothermal energy is there awaiting development, with no fuel costs attached once the basic work is done. The development of this new type of energy could provide a clean source of power through hot water and steam-cleaner even than nuclear energy, which leaves a poisonous residue of radioactive wastes. Of overriding importance, however, is the contribution the earth's natural internal heat might make toward solving our nation's worsening energy crisis.