Page last updated at 17:29 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Switzerland geologist on trial for 'causing quakes'

The Swiss city of Basel
The geothermal project in Basel has been shut down because of the quakes

The head of a geothermal energy company has gone on trial in Switzerland accused of damaging property by triggering earthquakes.

Markus Haering's company had been working with the authorities in Basel to try to convert the heat in deep-seated rocks into electricity.

But the project was suspended in 2006 when drilling triggered the quakes.

They caused no injuries but led to $9m (£5.54m) of damage. Mr Haering denies deliberately damaging property.

The project was shut down permanently last week after a government study found that similar quakes caused by the project would lead to millions of dollars worth of damage each year.

Major fault line

Appearing in court in Basel on Tuesday, Mr Haering rejected allegations that he deliberately damaged properties and claimed local people were aware of the risks.

He said those involved had "very little knowledge of seismicity" before drilling began in the Petit-Huningue area of the city.

But the project leaders had an emergency plan and "every minute, we knew what was going on and were able to act instantly".

One of the earthquakes generated had a 3.4 magnitude.

The Swiss government report concluded that if the project had been allowed to continue there was a 15% chance of it triggering a quake powerful enough to cause damage of up to $500m.

However it was unlikely to activate the major fault line that runs beneath Basel, which led to a huge quake that devastated the city in 1356.

Mr Haering faces up to five years jail if the judge finds he intentionally damaged property. A verdict is expected next week.

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