Gov. David Ige issued a new emergency declaration Wednesday to move 60,000 gallons of high flammable chemicals from Puna Geothermal Venture by the end of tomorrow.
The declaration would establish a task force, led by Mayor Harry Kim and head of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Tom Travis, to take faster action at PGV in order to secure the facility and establish more efficient emergency plans at the site.
Currently, the PGV plant, located northeast of Leilani Estates and just north of Lanipuna Gardens, houses approximately 60,000 gallons of pentane, a substance used at geothermal plants as a binary fluid: thanks to its low boiling point, it can be vaporized and used to spin turbines at relatively low temperatures. However, the substance also has a low flash point and is extremely volatile, igniting easily at room temperature in liquid state.
Should all of the pentane ignite, the blast radius is estimated to extend up to a mile, Ige said. Meanwhile, if the geothermal wellheads were to be breached, they would emit large quantities of toxic gases across an even larger area.
PGV shut down operations shortly after the first fissure opened in Leilani Estates, and the pentane was secured at higher ground in the facility. However, as additional vents formed in the following days, concerns rose that PGV would be in the path of the lava flow.
On Monday, Mike Kaleikini, senior director of Hawaii affairs for PGV, said PGV would transport 12,000 gallons of pentane from the facility by the end of the week, with the remainder to be moved in the coming weeks as appropriate containers to move the chemical are brought onto the island.
However, Ige said Wednesday that PGV “was not acting quickly enough.”
“They might have felt that it wasn’t as urgent a need,” Ige said.
The task force, therefore, will accelerate the plan to remove the pentane by the end of Thursday.
Talmadge Magno, director of Hawaii County Civil Defense, said earlier Wednesday that the pentane would be transported to Shipman Industrial Park for storage. Ige said the proclamation allows him to waive any specific permit requirements that would have otherwise prohibited the storage of pentane at that location.
Ige emphasized the facility remains safe and stable Wednesday afternoon, posing no immediate danger to the community but added it was important to be able to act with authority if necessary.
Ige said the task force will also evaluate PGV’s emergency plans regarding the plant’s wellheads, with the help of other as-yet undetermined geothermal experts, and determine whether the plans are sufficient.
Meanwhile, Ige said he has signed a request for a federal disaster declaration for the Leilani eruption, saying the damage so far has exceeded the $1.9 million threshold for such a declaration. President Donald Trump approved a similar declaration Tuesday to address flooding on Oahu and Kauai.
Ige estimated that the cost to protect residents alone will exceed $2.9 million over the next 30 days.
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