German town of Staufen is cracking apart

Buildings in the German town of Staufen have been developing cracks since 2007, after a failed drilling operation caused the ground to swell.

At first glance, this small town may look like a picturesque country settlement, but on further inspection you may notice some cracks – quite literally.

Buildings in the German town of Staufen have been cracking since 2007, after a failed drilling operation caused the ground to swell.

And while experts have done their best to slow the swelling, they are still not sure how to stop it altogether.

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At first glance, this small town may look like a picturesque country settlement, but on further inspection you may notice some cracks – quite literally. Buildings in the German town of Staufen have been developing cracks since 2007, after a failed drilling operation caused the ground to swell

At first glance, this small town may look like a picturesque country settlement, but on further inspection you may notice some cracks – quite literally. Buildings in the German town of Staufen have been developing cracks since 2007, after a failed drilling operation caused the ground to swell

WHY IS STAUFEN CRACKING?

In 2007, the German government drilled seven boreholes behind the town hall for geothermal energy. 

Staufen lies above a layer of anhydrite, beneath which is a layer of groundwater. 

The boreholes released water into the anhydrite, where it formed gypsum which expands by about 50 per cent.

This causes the ground expand and bulging, forming cracks in buildings. 

A video posted by YouTuber Tom Scott reveals how the problems started in 2007, when the German government drilled seven boreholes behind the town hall for geothermal energy.

Constantijn Crijnen, an Environmental Scientist at the University of Tubingen explained: 'Underneath Staufen there's a big layer of anhydrite and beneath that is a layer of groundwater in a confined aquifer.

'The pressure as groundwater went into the layer of anhydrite and formed gypsum, which expands by about 50 per cent.

'Unfortunately that means that the ground is expanding, bulging up and forming cracks in almost every single house that's standing here.'

In the decade since the drilling began, the town hall has risen and moved sideways by more than half a metre.

In the video, Mr Scott explains: 'That might not sound like much, and yes, if everything had shifted evenly it might not be a problem.

'The trouble is that different parts of each building have shifted by slightly different amounts.

As the ground expands and bulges up, it forms cracks in almost evey building that is standing in the town 

As the ground expands and bulges up, it forms cracks in almost evey building that is standing in the town 

'Even modern buildings couldn't cope with that, and that town hall was built in 1546.'

Authorities are now trying to get the water out from the anhydrite layer to reduce pressure, pumping water out at a speed of around one litre/second.

This has slowed the swelling down from about one centimetre/month to about one millimetre/month.

Following the incident, the drilling company settled out of court for more than €1 million (£890,000/$1.18 million)
Experts predict that repairing the damage will cost more 50 million euros

Authorities are now trying to get the water out from the anhydrite layer to reduce pressure, pumping water out at a speed of around one litre/second. This has slowed the swelling down from about one centimetre/month to about one millimetre/month

Mr Crijnen said: 'But it's still swelling, and one millimetre is still way too much for a house.'

He added that theoretically you could stop the swelling with a giant plug, but this isn't so easy in practice.

He said: 'It's not a single plane. It's more 3D, and in reality you'd need a big, big plug, and you don't even know where it exactly is.'

Following the incident, the drilling company settled out of court for more than €1 million (£890,000/$1.18 million).

Staufen isn't the only town that is cracking. Mr Scott said: 'There are eight other German towns with similar problems. Geothermal drilling was popular and not massively regulated'

Staufen isn't the only town that is cracking. Mr Scott said: 'There are eight other German towns with similar problems. Geothermal drilling was popular and not massively regulated'

But experts predict that repairing the damage will cost more than 50 times that.

Staufen isn't the only town that is cracking.

Mr Scott said: 'There are eight other German towns with similar problems. Geothermal drilling was popular and not massively regulated.

'And while the industry and the country have learned from those mistakes, for this town, that knowledge comes a little too late.'