China's Dams

China is being forced to choose between air pollution and deadly earthquakes

If the findings of Chinese geologist and environmentalist Fan Xiao – and the author of several reports for Probe International – are accurate, they raise a serious question. This report by Quartz, a business news site from Atlantic Media, looks at some recent quakes in China linked to the filling of hydro-dam reservoirs.

This article, by Jeanne Kim, was published by Quartz on September 12, 2014

There has long been speculation that some of China’s deadly earthquakes were caused by nearby dams and filling of reservoirs. If the findings of Fan Xiao, an engineer at the Sichuan Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, are accurate, they raise a serious question: Should China’s government stop operating its dams to reduce life-threatening quakes, even if it requires losing an important clean energy source?

China, the world’s leading carbon emitter, produced 9.9 billion tons, or 29% of the world’s (pdf) CO2 emissions, in 2012 (the US came in second at 15%, producing 5.2 tons). A small step to reduce pollutive coal production—which makes up 70% of China’s energy—has been increasing the use of hydropower, now the country’s largest source of renewable energy. The Chinese government and companies have pledged to invest $275 billion in pollution abatement by 2015.

But now Fan, who analyzed publicly available crude seismic data, has found a rough correlation between the filling of reservoirs used to generate hydropower and seismic activity in the surrounding area, which bolsters existing research. Some of the recent quakes in question:

Dams and reservoirs pose other environmental problems: Organisms that once lived on dry ground and now inhabit reservoirs release methane gas when they decompose. Large-scale dams can exacerbate droughts downstream. All the more reason why China’s plan to build 60 hydropower dams by 2015, most of which will likely be along fault lines, is cause for concern.


Related reading on large dams and seismic hazard by Probe International

Quake strikes Three Gorges Dam area again
More earthquakes strike Three Gorges Dam region
Are dams triggering China’s earthquakes?
Could dams be causing China’s earthquakes?
Aftershocks from Sichuan earthquake pose threat of secondary disasters
Sichuan earthquake may be aftershock of 2008 killer quake: Chinese geologist
Deadly earthquake in China may be aftershock of 2008 Wenchuan quake
On alert: RIS risk amid rash of earthquakes in China’s Sichuan-Yunnan region
Press Release: 80,000 deaths from 2008 Chinese earthquake was likely not an act of God, says new study
Mega-dams in China’s earthquake zones could have “disastrous consequences
Three Gorges Dam failing: Chinese dam increases risk of earthquakes
Hong Kong earthquake an aftershock triggered by Chinese dam 50 years ago

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1 reply »

  1. Reblogged this on Conversations I Wish I Had and commented:
    “Dams and reservoirs pose other environmental problems: Organisms that once lived on dry ground and now inhabit reservoirs release methane gas when they decompose. Large-scale dams can exacerbate droughts downstream. All the more reason why China’s plan to build 60 hydropower dams by 2015, most of which will likely be along fault lines, is cause for concern.”

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