As lava breached the southern boundary of Puna Geothermal Venture on Monday, the head of a task force created to mitigate potential hazards at the power plant said efforts were underway to neutralize the last “active” well on the property.
A statement by the County of Hawaii confirmed that lava from Fissure 22 had crossed on to the property of Puna Geothermal Venture, which is described as “a geothermal energy conversion plant bringing steam and hot liquid up through underground wells”.
Tom Travis, the chief of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said during an afternoon media briefing he hoped efforts to “quench” well KS-14 would prove successful sometime Monday night.
Fissure 22 also delivered lava into the ocean at two spots near MacKenzie State Recreation Area on Monday, with molten rock traveling on one of the same paths as lava from fissure 20, which was no longer feeding the ocean.
The main concern, should lava overrun the well pad, is the release of hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a colorless, highly flammable and toxic gas.
In June 1991 the geothermal plant had a well blowout. The blowout spewed toxic gas and routed 75 people from their homes on the island of Hawaii. White sulfuric steam roared uncontrolled for more than 30 hours from the Puna Geothermal Venture well before the company managed to cap it.
Steve Philips, a farmer who lived a mile from the site and was jarred awake before midnight Wednesday by the explosion.
The blowout sounded like a jet airplane taking off, he said, except that it did not let up for two nights and a day. The noise, which got as high as 90 decibels, and the rotten-egg stench of hydrogen sulfide prompted the evacuations, according to Harry Kim, Hawaii County civil defense administrator. One worker suffered a minor injury in the blowout.
Even before the accident, geothermal development was among Hawaii’s most heated issues. Scores of protesters had been arrested as they tried to stop it. Environmentalists said it endangers the last major tract of lowland tropical rain forest in the United States. Residents argue that it threatens their health and safety, and some native Hawaiians decry it as a violation of the volcano goddess, Pele.
Norman Clark, project manager at Puna Geothermal Venture, which is owned by Ormat Energy System of Sparks, Nev., said the drill rig hit an extremely hot, high-pressure steam zone at 3,475 feet, far sooner than expected. But the blowout was not serious, he said. “We can drill and control anything that’s in Hawaii,” he said.
Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, said his agency is preparing for “a possible H2S release, as far as messaging to the community and evacuations that might have to take place.”
“We haven’t specifically mentioned hydrogen sulfide, but with this flow coming on to the PGV property, we’ll start acknowledging that this is the next precaution that folks will have to take,” Magno said.