Another Hot Water Shortage in Reykjanes a Possibility

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions

After a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula on February 8 disrupted the hot water supply in Suðurnes, a town hall meeting was held to discuss the risk posed by future eruptions to the hot water supply. A representative from HS Orka stated that although the primary hot water conduit to Suðurnes had been fortified, the possibility of another hot water shortage could not be discounted.

Town hall meeting in Reykjanesbær

Following a volcanic eruption that began on the Reykjanes peninsula on the morning of February 8, lava flowed over and breached the Njarðvíkur conduit, a pipeline that transports hot water from the Svartsengi geothermal power plant to the towns in Suðurnes: Vogar, Reykjanesbær, Garður, Sandgerði, and Grindavík.

Shortly after noon that same day, the utility company HS Veitur reported a hot-water outage in the upper areas of the Reykjanesbær municipality and the towns of Sandgerði and Garður. The rest of Suðurnes soon followed. It took five days for the authorities to restore hot water.

Given that another eruption seems to be imminent, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management (DCPEM) held a town hall meeting at the Stapi conference hall in Reykjanesbær last night. The meeting was attended by representatives of the DCPEM, the Icelandic Meteorological Office, and the utility companies HS Orka and HS Veitur, alongside the Minister of Justice, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir.

Another hot water shortage a possibility

According to Kristinn Harðarson, Executive Vice President of Operations at HS Orka, the possibility of another hot water shortage in the Suðurnes region cannot be discounted if an eruption occurs again on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Mbl.is reports.

Kristinn was asked whether there was still a possibility that residents in the Suðurnes region would once again be without hot water if lava flowed over the Grindavík road again. He answered affirmatively but pointed out that a long section of the Njarðvík pipeline, where lava is most likely to flow over, had been fortified. “This is a method that was tested at Fagradalsfjall. We are hopeful that this could work. Of course, we are in somewhat uncharted territories,” Kristinn observed.

“We are, at least, in a much better position, although it is never possible to rule anything out,” Kristinn continued. “If an eruption occurs somewhere else and lava flows over that section of the pipeline that is unprotected, there could be a disruption in delivery. But, in that case, we are prepared to respond, with materials on hand, and will do everything possible to ensure that any interruption is as short as possible.”

According to calculations by the Icelandic Meteorological Office, about 8.5 to 9 million cubic metres of magma have accumulated under Svartsengi. In previous eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula, eruptions have occurred when the volume of magma reached 8 to 13 million cubic metres. The lead-up to an eruption can be very short, according to geologists.

As noted by RÚV, it was also revealed during the town hall meeting that backup power has been secured for the distribution system, alternative water sources have been secured, and drilling for hot water in low-temperature areas has begun.

Government Awaits Proposal for Protective Barriers in Reykjanes

Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

During an informal session of Parliament yesterday, the Chairman of the Centre party inquired as to the government’s progress on protective barriers against potential volcanic eruptions near Grindavík, Vísir reports. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir responded by noting that recommendations for such barriers were expected to be submitted to the government for review in the coming days. Recent earthquakes caused visible damage to infrastructure near Mt. Þorbjörn, prompting HS Orka to initiate preparatory work for barriers at the Svartsengi power plant.

Inquiry into the state of protective barriers

During an informal question session in Parliament, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Chairman of the Centre Party, raised concerns about the construction of protective barriers and other preventive measures in response to potential volcanic eruptions near Grindavík. He urged the government to heed expert advice and make decisions regarding the construction of these barriers to protect settlements and infrastructure.

“Isn’t it time to start heeding the advice of these experts and, at the very least, make some decision, preferably to begin construction to protect settlements and other infrastructure?”

Ongoing preparations since 2021

In response, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir outlined the ongoing efforts since the first disturbances on the Reykjanes peninsula. She highlighted the collaboration with local authorities, emergency responders, and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management in mapping the area and compiling data.

Katrín mentioned that proposals for protective barriers were under review and that recommendations to the government were expected soon: “These proposals have been under review by the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management who plans to make recommendations to the government in the coming days on the appropriate course of action.”

(As noted by RÚV yesterday, when the eruption began at Fagradalsfjall in 2021, a group of experts was established to focus on the protection of critical infrastructure on the Reykjanes Peninsula. This group has been considering possible scenarios based on existing data, with the greatest emphasis being placed on protecting the Svartsengi power plant and the Blue Lagoon.)

Accused the coalition of indecisiveness

Sigmundur Davíð criticised the government for its indecisiveness and the disarray in handling the information related to this issue. He referenced Víðir Reynisson, Head of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, emphasising the urgency of a decision.

Katrín acknowledged the commencement of preliminary work for such projects but noted the current infeasibility of large-scale actions: “We have not yet reached the stage where a formal proposal from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management is in place. However, I expect it to be presented in the next few days, and I can then discuss it in more detail.”

Sigmundur Davíð further inquired if immediate action would follow the receipt of this proposal. Katrín assured that the proposal would undergo thorough examination and expert review before any decision. She concluded by expressing confidence in the coordinated efforts of all parties involved to manage the challenging situation.

“I want to take this opportunity to say that I believe all parties in the system are working in a coordinated manner to address this difficult situation,” Katrín concluded.

Visible damage to Svartsengi Power Plant

As reported by Vísir yesterday, a swarm of earthquakes in the early hours of Thursday, November 9, caused visible damage to roads and infrastructure near Mt. Þorbjörn on the Reykjanes peninsula. The Blue Lagoon was subsequently closed. Cracks formed in the asphalt of Grindarvíkurvegur, the road that leads to the town of Grindavík, and on the walls and floors of the Svartsengi power plant.

“Cracks have appeared widely in floors and walls, and it was clear upon arrival this morning that there was a considerable tremor last night. Monitors have fallen to the floor, and new cracks have appeared in many places,” Kristinn Harðarson, the production manager at HS Orka, told Vísir yesterday.

Prep work for protective barriers underway

Kristinn revealed that HS Orka had initiated preparatory work for the construction of protective barriers: “We are beginning preparations, bringing materials to the site so we can respond quickly if we need to set up protective barriers. We are trying to shorten the response time as much as possible,” Kristinn stated, adding that he hoped that this would ensure uninterrupted and ongoing operations at the power plant in case of an eruption.

Four to six trucks, carrying gravel from a nearby quarry to the power plant, drove into the area yesterday. As noted by Vísir, this gravel could be used for protective barriers or even to cover boreholes and pipelines in the event of an eruption.

Hackers Defraud Nearly Four Hundred Million From Power Company

Why is Iceland so expensive?

Foreign hackers have defrauded a considerable sum, reportedly nearly four hundred million ISK (over US $3,000,000), from Icelandic power company HS Orka. CEO Ásgeir Margeirsson says it was clearly a carefully planned crime. Although most of the funds are expected to be recovered, a police investigation is ongoing.

HS Orka’s staff realized a few weeks ago that the company’s computer system had been broken into and that significant funds had been pilfered. The case was reported in the local news today while police authorities both in Iceland and abroad are working to recover the funds, which Fréttablaðið reported to be a staggering sum of nearly 3.2 million US dollars. In an interview with mbl.is, Ásgeir would not confirm or deny the amount stolen.

HS Orka operates two geothermal plants that are located in Svartsengi at the sight of the famous Blue Lagoon and Reykjanes, just west of the Keflavik International Airport. The company is privately owned by both Icelandic and foreign shareholders. Around half of the company’s shares are owned by local pension funds.

Because this is a serious police matter, CEO Ásgeir Margeirsson naturally wants to avoid disclosing any information on how the thieves managed to pull off the robbery for the time being but revealed that it was HS Orka’s employees who discovered the fraud.

Ásgeir says that HS Orka’s work processes have been thoroughly examined to ensure that this kind of electronic break-in cannot happen again. Fortunately, employees’ quick reaction means that HS Orka has reason to believe they will recover a “considerable part” of the stolen funds. When asked whether the recovered money can be considered more than half the amount stolen, Ásgeir simply replies: “presumably”.

“It was exceedingly well-organized. Very elaborate and through this experience we have come to realize that the threat of this kind of theft is much more common than one might previously have thought,” says Ásgeir.

“We have every reason to be wary and therefore as far as possible we must create work processes and systems that will prevent this kind of break-in and theft from reoccurring.”

According to a HS Orka press release, the theft will have no impact on HS Orka’s conditions of operation, daily operations, clients or suppliers.