How Geothermal Drilling Left the German Town of Staufen With the Ground Shifting Beneath Them

In a cleaving episode of Amazing Places, host Tom Scott visited the town of Staufen, Germany, like many of its neighbors, is sitting upon shifting earth after an overreaching geothermal drilling project in 2007 hit the high pressure water table. The water leak seeped into the anhydrite (calcium sulfate) layer between water table and ground forming gypsum. The gypsum caused the ground to swell and pushed building foundations upwards, causing cracks throughout buildings in the town.

Unfortunately, that means that the ground is expanding, bulging up, and forming cracks in almost every single house that’s standing here. It took two weeks for the first cracks to appear. In the decades since the drilling operation, the town hall has risen more than half a metre and moved sideways by about the same amount. And that might not sound like much, and yes, if everything had shifted evenly it might not even be a problem. The trouble is that different parts of each building have shifted by slightly different amounts.