Lava threatening several additional wells at Puna geothermal plant

Exclusive video shows lava encroaching onto the PGV plant on Sunday
Published: May. 27, 2018 at 11:46 AM HST|Updated: May. 29, 2018 at 4:52 PM HST
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Lava covers an access road to the Puna Geothermal Venture plant. (Image: Sen. Kai Kahele)
Lava covers an access road to the Puna Geothermal Venture plant. (Image: Sen. Kai Kahele)

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lava flows are threatening several wells at the Puna Geothermal Venture plant, after earlier cutting off the primary access road to the facility.

But authorities said they're "confident" that stabilization work will prevent explosions and the uncontrolled release of dangerous gases — as it did with the first two wells that were overrun by lava over the weekend.

"Nothing that I know of is designed to operate with lava intrusion," said Tom Travis, of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

"So there's going to be some things that burn up, you know oil is gonna make a big black cloud and smell real bad and probably not be good to breathe. But probably the lava will be intimidating enough, there will be no one near it, it might not matter."

Aerial images shot Tuesday show lava cutting across the primary access road to the plant and encroaching on the property, taking several structures with it. The structures that were destroyed are not part of the plant, but are on land leased by the company.

Travis said that about 3 p.m., lava encroached onto well pad a, which holds several injection wells.

The new threat to the plant comes on the heels of lava flows covering two wells at the property over the weekend and as ongoing vigorous eruptions continue in lower Puna.

Puna Geothermal Venture plant spokesman Mike Kaleikini has stressed that no release of hydrogen sulfide has been detected on the site — the biggest concern if lava were to hit the geothermal wells at the site.

Gov. David Ige, meanwhile, said at a news conference Sunday that authorities "feel confident that the risk is mitigated."

Before the lava encroached onto the property, 10 of the 11 wells were "quenched" with cold water — a process in which the well is injected with water to cool and depressurization it. An 11th well was plugged with bentonite clay after proving resistant to quenching efforts.

Plant officials have said the mud-like substance is holding up and the pressure in the 11th well has stayed down.

However, officials have conceded they don't know if hydrogen sulfide is the only possible hazard the community could face if lava interacts with their wells.

This story will be updated.

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