Lava destroys warehouse near geothermal site; company says worries over lava encroachment overblown
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Lava destroys warehouse near geothermal site; company says worries over lava encroachment overblown

  • JAMM AQUINO/ JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Lava entered the ocean, Monday, in lower Puna on Hawaii island. Experts advise exercising caution near plumes of “laze,” as they contain particles of glass as well as toxic hydrochloric acid.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Lava entered the ocean from the latest flow, Monday, near Pahoa on Hawaii island.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Lava erupted inside Leilani Estates near fissure 17, Sunday, in Pahoa on Hawaii Island. Lava has finally reached the ocean, but experts advise exercising caution near plumes of “laze,” as they contain particles of glass as well as toxic sulphuric acid.

  • COURTESY USGS

    This map shows the lava flow from Kilauea Volcano in the East Rift Zone as of 11 a.m. Sunday. The active ocean entry is shown by dots. Previous lava flows from eruptions in 1840, 1955, 1960 and 2014-2015 are shown in purple.

  • U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY / CAROLYN PARCHETA

    Lava flowed around a kipuka, an “island” surrounded by younger lava flows, before entering the ocean this morning in Kilauea Volcano’s Lower East Rift Zone on Hawaii island.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A cooling lava flow that overran Highway 137 is seen Sunday in Pahoa. Lava has now reached the ocean, crossing Highway 137 late Saturday evening.

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UPDATE: 12:45 p.m.

Hawaii County Civil Defense officials have clarified that an old warehouse destroyed by lava Monday night was not on the Puna Geothermal Venture site as they had reported this morning.

Instead, they said the warehouse was the site of the former Hawaii Geothermal Project-A, which was an experimental state venture to explore the possibility of geothermal energy production. (The “A” in the project’s name refers to geothermal well A.)

The HGPA site is near the PGV property, which has been threatened by lava. The plant closed shortly after the current lava outbreak began on May 3.

10:30 a.m.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim issued a supplementary emergency proclamation today suspending the June 30 real property tax deadline for parcel owners in Leilani Estates, Lanipuna Gardens, Pohoiki Bay Estates and Kapoho Estates whose property was adversely affected by the Kilauea eruption.

The signed supplementary emergency proclamation can be viewed here.

8:55 a.m.

A lava flow has destroyed a warehouse on property near the Puna Geothermal Venture plant Monday evening, but the top executive in Hawaii for PGV said the concerns about lava inundation at the plant have been overblown.

Michael Kaleikini, senior director of Hawaii affairs for PGV, said the noise and emissions from more than 20 volcanic fissures and the enormous active lava flow on the Lower East Rift Zone dwarf any emissions or damage that could possibly result from an uncontrolled breach of the geothermal wells on the PGV site.

“From our perspective, there’s nothing that could occur at the PGV facility at the wells that would be any worse than what’s already occurring with the eruption,” Kaleikini said. The noise and geothermal emissions from any well breach would be far less than the roaring of escaping gas and lava from the ongoing eruption, he said.

“This is all about the eruption, and PGV is just a small component that happens to be in the area,” he said.

He noted the company has been working with state and county officials to “quench” three production wells at the site to reduce the risk of a release.

Eight other wells on the site did not need to be quenched with cold water because they were not pressurized, he said. In other words, those wells were not generating upward pressure that could cause gases or fluids to escape.

Kaleikini said the nearest lava pad is within 100 feet of an area known as the “Boneyard,” where the company stores old parts and equipment. The lava has reached to within about 300 yards of the nearest well, he said.

Janet Snyder, spokeswoman for Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim, said the U.S. Geological Survey has crews at PGV to monitor the movement of the flow near the 815-acre property.

She said the old warehouse that was destroyed at about 9:30 p.m. Monday was owned by the state, and was used in geothermal research projects early in the development of the prject.

That brings the total number of structures that have been destroyed to at least 47 since the eruption began on May 3, but civil defense officials say they believe the total is actually higher. They have been unable to say how many of the inundated structures were homes.

Fissure 22 has been directing most of its lava toward the ocean, but also released some lava in the opposite direction to the northwest toward the PGV plant. Snyder said fissures 6 and 19 also opened overnight and sent lava toward the PGV plant.

In all, Synder said the active fissures include 17, 20, 22, 19 and 6, “and possibly 5 and 8.” She said a flow from fissure 5 near the bottom of the Leilani Estates subdivision covered Kahukai Street at some point Monday night or this morning.

>> RELATED VIDEO: An enormous lava lake, threatening conditions at the Puna Geothermal Venture and high levels of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide billowing in the air prompted Hawaii County officials and the Hawaii National Guard to cancel all media tours into the areas affected by the lava from Kilauea Volcano that is advancing towards the geothermal power plant wells. (Video courtesy State of Hawaii, Dept. of Defense; mobile app users, click here)

7:15 a.m.

Fissure 6 reactivated Monday night and has been erupting since around midnight, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense. The flows from the fissure are slowly approaching Puna Geothermal Venture property.

Residents and onlookers are asked to stay out of the area due to the hazardous conditions and are advised of the following road closures:

>> Highway 137 between Kamaili Road and Pohoiki Road.

>> Kamaili Road is closed to all thru traffic.

Meanwhile, weather officials advise that trace ashfall is possible southwest of Kilauea volcano after today’s early morning explosive eruption.

“Ash fallout will likely be mainly over the Kau district and Highway 11 southwest of the town of Volcano,” the National Weather Service said in an alert.

Occasional small bursts of volcanic ash continue from Halemaumau crater.

4:45 a.m.

Another explosive eruption has occurred at the Kilauea summit, this time at 3:45 a.m today.

The resulting ash plume may travel southwest toward Wood Valley, Pahala and Waiohinu, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense.

Residents from the affected areas are primarily at risk due to ash fallout. Hawaii County Civil Defense advises the following to residents in affected areas:

>> If you are at home, stay indoors with the windows closed. Turn on your radio and listen for updates from authorities.

>> If you are in your car, keep the windows closed. Ash fallout may cause poor driving conditions, due to limited visibility and slippery driving conditions. Drive with extreme caution, or pull over and park.

>> After the hazard has passed, do check your home, and especially your catchment system for any impact that may affect your water quality.

MONDAY, MAY 21

7 P.M.

An explosive eruption at the Kilauea summit occurred at 5:51 p.m. today, reports the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Ash plume from the eruption may affect surrounding areas.

Lava from fissure 22 crossed onto the Puna Geothermal Venture property earlier today. Ten of the 11 wells on the property have been quenched, and county, state, and federal partners are monitoring the situation.

Eruptive lava activity continues at multiple fissures with one flow entering the ocean. Fissure 22 continues to produce most of the lava feeding the flows.

A community information meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Pahoa High School’s cafeteria.

2 P.M.

HILO >> Kilauea volcano ramped up its activity today with a lava flow reaching the Puna Geothermal Venture plant property near Lanipuna Gardens.

Hawaii County Civil Defense officials said a relatively small lava flow moved in the opposite direction from the lava river pouring into the ocean along the Puna coastline, and that flow is advancing through the PGV property. The plant has been closed since shortly after the Lower Puna lava outbreak began on May 3.

A Hawaii County Civil Defense spokeswoman said the flow from fissure 22 next to the PGV site broke out on its northwest side, and “there’s very active fountaining.” The flow last night was approaching the well pad at PGV, but had stalled at a berm on the property, said Janet Snyder.

In other volcano developments today:

>> Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists said two lava flows continue to enter the ocean in Lower Puna. The U.S. Coast Guard is enforcing a 300-meter (328 yards) safety zone from the entry areas.

>> The lava flow that was already hitting the ocean near MacKenzie State Park has been slowly widening, Snyder said. “We have problems with people sightseeing, people parking along (Highway) 137 to look. Most people are starting to cooperate because they realize this is dangerous,” she said.

>> State officials announced they will expand the air quality monitoring to include hydrogen sulfide. Until now, the state monitoring efforts have been focused on sulfur dioxide.

>>A small explosive eruption occurred at Halemaumau crater at 12:55 a.m. at Kilauea’s summit, HVO scientists said. The resulting ash plume reached a height of 7,000 feet and was blown to the southwest by the prevailing winds. The communities of Wood Valley, Pahala, Naalehu and Waiohinu are advised that ash could be blown their way, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense.

The lava flow entering the PGV property, meanwhile, it is something residents of the surrounding area have been worried about since the outbreak began. They fear a lava flow or earthquake could damage one or more of the geothermal wells on the property, causing an uncontrolled release of potentially dangerous volcanic gases.

The wells are 6,000 to 8,000 feet deep and are used to tap into extremely hot water and steam that is used to run turbines to produce electricity. The plant has been closed since shortly after the May 3 eruption began, and PGV officials relocated 60,000 gallons of flammable pentane away from the site as a safety precaution.

There are three active wells on the PGV site, and the state has been working to “kill” those wells by pumping cold water into them, and then plan to use an iron plug to seal them.

Tom Travis, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said through a spokeswoman this morning that those efforts are in the “final stages” for geothermal wells KS9 and KS6, but crews encountered difficulties with quenching another well known as KS14.

“Difficulties with quenching KS14 have led us to evaluate alternative procedures for killing the well. Preparations are being made to do that,” the spokeswoman said. No further information about the “difficulties” or the planned solution to them was available.

Gov. David Ige this month issued a supplemental emergency proclamation instructing Travis, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, and Hawaii Civil Defense Agency Administrator Talmadge Magno to “lead a team to develop and implement mitigation steps as necessary to protect public health and safety.”

That team includes federal and state agencies, as well as PGV, and the group was tasked with reviewing and assessing the existing PGV Emergency Response Plan as well as “develop a specific mission strategy deemed appropriate to mitigate potential impacts from lava,” according to the Ige administration.

Ige told reporters Sunday that “we are mitigating the risk to the geothermal plant and … that is an ongoing concern of ours that we want to protect the people as best as we can.”

Ige described the situation at the plant Sunday as “relatively stable.”

“The big risks have been mitigated and it’s really continuing to the original plan,” he said. “We do want to shut down the wells so that we would eliminate the broader risk of uncontrolled release.”

He described the work as “a complex operation. We haven’t done it in the past so we definitely want to be careful. We don’t want to take the risk in terms of reducing the general risk to the public and then create a different kind of exposure that didn’t exist. So, you know, we are being thoughtful. We have reached out to experts to help us through with what we’re planning to do, and they’ve been very responsive in providing their expertise.”

laze plume

COURTESY USGS
A laze plume appears at the lava ocean entry point today.

Hawaii County Civil Defense officials continue to warn people south of the rift zone to be prepared to evacuate at any point and with no advance notice because of elevated sulfur dioxide levels or the threat of lava.

They also advise:

>> Kalapana and Kapoho roads are open to residents only.

>> Highway 137 is closed to all traffic between Kamaili Road and Pohoiki Road.

>> Kamaili Road is closed to all through traffic. This is a high sulfur dioxide area.

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