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So, the mountain belched — does it all the time. But that knowledge could pay off.

Time-lapse video shows steam venting from Mount Baker

After seeing steam venting from Mount Baker on Saturday, March 17, Austin Breckenridge of Bellingham created this video. Baker is the Cascade Range's second most-thermally active crater and regularly lets off steam due to geologic activity.
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After seeing steam venting from Mount Baker on Saturday, March 17, Austin Breckenridge of Bellingham created this video. Baker is the Cascade Range's second most-thermally active crater and regularly lets off steam due to geologic activity.

A good portion of Whatcom County saw Mount Baker hiccup Saturday — a belch of some gas and steam, if you will.

You're excused.

What else would you it expect from an active volcano, anyway? It's an occurrence that happens nearly every day but is visible in the lowlands only when conditions are right.

"The crater degasses all day, every day," said Dave Tucker, a board member of the Mount Baker Volcano Research Center and a research associate in the Geology Department at Western Washington University.

Now, if only there were a way to put that kind of energy to good use . . .

According to a story posted by KING5.com, there soon could be.

This summer the Washington state Department of Natural Resources plans to drill four or five "temperature gradient" wells near Mount Baker and its Cascade Range sibling Mount St. Helens to begin locating potential sites for geothermal power plants.

“Our hope is that, as you go down into the Earth, these will show an elevated temperature,” Alex Steely, a doctor of geology with the DNR who is working on the project, told KING5.

Several of the wells, according to the story, will be drilled near Baker Lake, just off U.S. 20, south of Mount Baker.

The other wells will be drilled about 15 miles northwest of Mount St. Helens.

Steely said it takes more than just volcanic heat to create power, though. There also needs to be natural water flowing through faults or cracks in the rock that can create a loop, where cold water sinks and hot water rises.

“At a couple of kilometers of depth, the water might be 200... above boiling, essentially,” Steely told KING5. "You put a well in to take the water out, you run it through a heat exchanger, it powers a turbine, you generate electricity, and then you re-inject it in another spot and sort of close the system and keep the fluid flowing.”

Steam vents, known as fumaroles, are shown just inside the west rim of Sherman Crater on Mount Baker in 2010. The trip was organized by the Mount Baker Volcano Research Center at Western Washington University. More information: http://mbvrc.wwu.edu

The Department of Natural Resources told KING5 it is not looking to get into the business of generating power, but is instead providing basic science to help locate and encourage potential sites where geothermal plants could be built.

According to the Institute for Energy Research, geothermal energy provides only about 0.2 percent of all the energy consumed by the United States, with most of the geothermal power plants located in the west or Hawaii.

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