Geoscience and decision making for geothermal energy : a case study
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In September 2009 exploratory testing of an old geothermal power well caused a blowout at the El Tatio geothermal field of northern Chile. El Tatio is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere. The blowout was a paradigm-shifting event for the management of the El Tatio geothermal field and drew attention to the disparity and critical nature of scientific information sharing. This study uses the El Tatio incident as a case study for examining problems of common-pool resource management and geothermal energy development. It explores how differing valuations of geothermal resources resulted in a breakdown of coherent regulation and negative outcomes for all stakeholders. Contingent valuation methods were used to create an elicitive interview process in order to assess how differences in valuation drove these conflicts and negative outcomes. The sharing of scientific information through Decision Support Systems (DSS) is identified as an important element in resolving these conflicts and creating new policies for common-pool resource management. These methods are presented as tools that can be used by stakeholders to find common ground and seek mutually beneficial outcomes. In addition, these tools can help with the critical issue of social perception of scientific data and science driven solutions to these problems. This study posits that the path forward is to ensure not only that scientific data is communicated in modes appropriate to the community and problem at hand, but that the acquisition and interpretation of this data is informed by stakeholder needs.