FILE - In this May 20, 2018 file photo, lava flows into the ocean near Pahoa, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Energy wells plugged as Hawaii’s volcano sends lava nearby

A spike in gas levels could prompt a mass evacuation in Hawaii

Production wells at a geothermal plant under threat by lava flowing from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano have been plugged to prevent toxic gases from seeping out.

Lava from a nearby, new volcanic vent entered, then stalled, on the 815-acre (329.8 hectare) property where the Puna Geothermal Venture wells occupy around 40 acres (16 hectares). Residents have been concerned about hazards if the lava flowed over the plant’s facilities, or if heat generated would interact with various chemicals used on-site.

Ten wells were “quenched,” which cools them with enough cold water to counter the pressure of volcanic steam coming from below, said Hawaii Gov. David Ige. The last well was plugged with mud, because it had remained hot despite the infusion of water. Metal plugs in the wells, which run as deep as 8,000 feet (2,438 metres) underground, are an additional stopgap measure.

“All wells are stable at this point,” said Ige. County officials are also monitoring various gases that may leak into the atmosphere.

County Civil Defence Administrator Talmadge Magno. Officials, however, have not discussed specific scenarios that would lead to such an emergency.

Puna Geothermal, owned by Nevada’s Ormat Technologies, was shut down shortly after Kilauea began spewing lava on May 3. The plant harnesses heat and steam from the earth’s core to spin turbines to generate power. A flammable gas called pentane is used as part of the process, though officials earlier this month removed 50,000 gallons (190,000 litres) of the gas from the plant to reduce the chance of explosions.

The plant has capacity to produce 38 megawatts of electricity, providing roughly one-quarter of the Big Island’s daily energy demand.

Related: Explosive eruption in Hawaii prompts ashfall advisory

Related: Hawaii volcano park to close amid explosion concerns

Lava destroyed a building near the plant late Monday, bringing the total number of structures overtaken in the past several weeks to nearly 50, including dozens of homes. The latest was a warehouse adjacent to the Puna plant, Hawaii County spokeswoman Janet Snyder told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The building was owned by the state and was used in geothermal research projects in the early days of the site.

Native Hawaiians have long expressed frustration with the plant since it came online in 1989; they say it is built on sacred land. Goddess of fire, Pele, is believed to live on Kilauea volcano, and the plant itself is thought to desecrate her name.

Other residents have voiced concerns over health and safety.

Scientists, however, say the conditions on Kilauea make it a good site for harnessing the earth for renewable energy.

“There’s heat beneath the ground if you dig deep enough everywhere,” said Laura Wisland, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. But in some places in the U.S. “it’s just hotter, and you can access the geothermal energy more easily.”

Geothermal energy is also considered a clean resource as it doesn’t generate greenhouse gas emissions, said Bridget Ayling, the director of Nevada’s Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy.

Ormat said in a May 15 statement that there was a low risk of surface lava making its way to the facility. The company also said there was no damage to the facilities above-ground and that it was continuing to assess the impact. The plant is expected to begin operating “as soon as it is safe to do so,” according to the statement.

Puna Geothermal represents about 4.5 per cent of Ormat’s worldwide generating capacity. Last year, the Hawaii plant generated about $11 million of net income for the company. Ormat is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and shares have fallen nearly 10 per cent since Kilauea began erupting.

Kaleikini said the gases that could potentially leak from the Puna plant are no different from those coming from active fissures.

The U.S. Geological Survey said sulfur dioxide emissions from the volcano have more than doubled since the current eruption began. Kilauea’s summit is now belching 15,000 tons (13,607 metric tons) of the gas each day up from 6,000 tons (5443 metric tons) daily prior to the May 3 eruption.

Scientists say lava from Kilauea is causing explosions as it enters the ocean, which can look like fireworks. When lava hits the sea and cools, it breaks apart and sends fragments flying into the air, which could land on boats in the water, said U.S. Geological Survey scientist Wendy Stovall.

Underscoring the eruption’s dangers, a Hawaii man was hit by a flying piece of lava over the weekend said the molten rock nearly sheared his leg in half.

Darryl Clinton told the Honolulu television station KHON that he was on the roof of a home helping to put out fires from flying rocks when an explosion a couple hundred yards away launched a “lava bomb” his way. It hit him above the ankle.

Clinton says doctors saved his leg, but he must avoid putting weight on it for six weeks.

Clinton was the first to suffer a major injury because of the eruption.

___

Yan reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writer Audrey McAvoy contributed from Honolulu.

___

Jae C. Hong And Sophia Yan, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Tofino’s first Jazz Festival swings into town this weekend

“I wanted a night of music were you didn’t have to go through fences to access the music.”

UPDATE: Construction on Hwy. 4 halted after tree crashes into traffic

Trees are being cleared along the highway between Port Alberni and the Tofino-Ucluelet junction.

GoFundMe page launched for families of three missing Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation fishermen

Men have been missing since their vessel capsized near Tofino on June 15.

115 new wildfires burning across B.C. due to 19,000 lightning strikes

More fires expected to start today, says BC Wildfire Service officials

Marijuana to be legal in Canada Oct. 17: Trudeau

Prime Minister made the announcement during question period in the House of Commons

B.C. BMX kid wows GoPro with homemade video

Eight-year-old Rex Johnson wins award for inventive video

Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna suspended for 75 games

23-year-old pitcher faces assault charge

Vancouver Canucks tab Quinn Hughes with No. 7 overall pick in NHL draft

University of Michigan standout was second defenceman picked in first round

Gun, drugs and cash seized in arrest of alleged B.C. fentanyl dealer

Vancouver Island man Brent Connors is facing nine charges in relation to investigation

Jogger spent two weeks in U.S. detention centre after accidentally crossing B.C. border

Cedella Roman, 19, crossed the border while out for a run

PHOTOS: Police rescue baby seal found on rocky B.C. shoreline

Marina Mammal Rescue Centre recommends residents observe from a distance

B.C. woman with severely disabled son keeps getting parking tickets

‘There has to be something they could do’

Man brandishes axe during robbery

Mounties were able to locate the suspect within two hours of the incident

‘Creep off’ reporting system aims to track street harassment in Metro Vancouver

Text-based hotline launches to collect public reports on where and when harassment occurs

Most Read