Iceland has been running on geothermal power since the turn of the 20th century. Geothermal provides four terawatt-hours of electricity to the island a year, fulfilling about 25 percent of the country's consumption, in addition to nearly 90 percent of its heat and hot water. (The U.S. has an estimated 400 terawatt-hours in geothermal resources but produces just 14.8 terawatt-hours a year, which amounts to only 0.38 percent of its overall electricity consumption.) Iceland's international expertise on geothermal power, however, came with a steep learning curve. "We know better than anyone else how many things can go wrong," says Bjarni Palsson, the IDDP's head drilling engineer.
And with such a volatile fluid, a lot can go wrong. "Worst case, we have a blowout, and an uncontrolled flow of fluid blows the whole rig off," says engineering geologist Sebastian Homuth, who conducted the risk assessment of the project. This happened on one of Iceland's drilling projects in 1999, to incredible effect: The blowout left behind a 100-foot-wide crater. That explosion occurred because of a malfunction of the valve used to seal a wellhead in the case of a blowout. The IDDP's stop valve is strong enough to prevent an explosion from trashing the rig, but a blowout could make reopening the well difficult.