Former Hawaii Geothermal site destroyed by lava; PGV says risk of of hydrogen sulfide release ‘minimal’

  • U.S. Geological Survey photo This aerial photo taken Monday shows lava fountains at fissure No. 22.

Lava from Kilauea volcano has destroyed the former Hawaii Geothermal Project site adjacent to Puna Geothermal Venture, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Talmadge Magno.

In his noon update for radio today, Magno said, “There is no immediate threat to any of the wells at PGV.”

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Lava has breached the Puna powerplant property, officials said Monday.

The total number of buildings destroyed by lava is now approaching 50, although officials are unsure of the exact count.

Janet Snyder, a spokeswoman for Mayor Harry Kim, said fissures No. 6 and 19 opened overnight and “advanced north toward PGV.” She said lava from fissure No. 22 is also part of the mix threatening the geothermal powerplant, which was taken offline when the lava emergency began May 3.

“The lava is close to the developed part of the property but it’s not on it yet. It’s not at the wells, themselves, but close,” she said. According to Snyder, a U.S. Geological Survey crew is at the PGV property.

Snyder quoted Mike Kaleikini, senior director of Hawaii affairs for PGV, as saying, “We are very confident in the mechanical integrity of our wells. We are preparing for a worst-case scenario, but the possibility of an uncontrolled event is very, very minimal.”

An “uncontrolled event” means a large-scale release of hydrogen sulfide, a colorless, highly toxic gas.

Work continues at the 815-acre lower Puna geothermal site to neutralize what Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Chief Tom Travis said Monday is the only well still active on the property, KS-14.

“They tried to put a hot plug on it, that industrial mud, but it had a leak, so there’s some pressure still there,” Snyder said. “The good news is … the leak is relatively small. The balance of the work is taking place amid the closeness of the lava flows.”

Snyder said that as of this morning, fissures active include Nos. 5, 6, 17, 19, 20 and 22. She said lava from fissure No. 5 covered the lower portion of Kahukai Street in Leilani Estates subdivision last night.

Lava from fissure No. 22 continues to enter the ocean near MacKenzie State Recreation Area and those who get too close to the entry point could be injured by the lava haze, or “laze,” is a caustic, toxic mixture of steam, sulfur dioxide gas and fine particles of volcanic glass.

Snyder said there have been three “hefty explosions” within Halema‘uma‘u crater at the summit of Kilauea since Monday evening — one at about 5 p.m., another at 5:51 p.m. and one at 3:35 a.m. today.

Magno said the explosive eruption early today sent an ash plume about 8,000 feet above sea level into the air.

“Ash has been reported in communities downwind of Kilauea. Take action to avoid explosion to ash,” Magno said.

Tradewinds from the northeast has blown ash into Ka‘u communities, including Pahala, Punaluu and Naalehu.

Highway 137, also known as “Red Road,” remains closed between Kamaili Road and Pohoiki Road.

Kamaili Road is closed to all through traffic.

An eruption community information meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. today at the Pahoa High School cafeteria.

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This story will be updated as needed. See Wednesday’s Tribune-Herald for complete coverage.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.