Lava from Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea volcano has reached the Puna Geothermal Venture plant, covering a well and threatening another. At the same time, fast-moving lava flows are now threatening nearby communities, prompting new evacuations.
“Lava flow from Fissures 7 and 21 crossed into PGV [Puna Geothermal Venture] property overnight and has now covered one well that was successfully plugged,” declared the Hawaii Civil Defense Agency in a statement released on Sunday, May 27 at 6:00 pm local time. “That well, along with a second well 100 feet [30 meters] away, are stable and secured, and are being monitored. Also due to preventative measures, neither well is expected to release any hydrogen sulfide.”
Those preventive measures included a complete shutdown of the geothermal plant, the capping of all 11 wells, and the removal of some 60,000 gallons of flammable liquid. Those precautions aside, this is the first time in history—as far as we know—that lava has ever engulfed a geothermal power plant, so it’s all uncharted territory. There’s fear that a rupture of the wells could set off an explosion, releasing hydrogen sulfide and other dangerous gasses into the environment. As of this posting, the lava flows on the PGV grounds have stopped moving.
Residents have been worrying about such a scenario since the plant went online nearly three decades ago. Over the years, PGV owners have faced lawsuits questioning its decision to place the plant so close to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, as Reuters reports. The 38-megawatt PGV facility provides about 25 percent of power to the Big Island.
Meanwhile, sections of the nearby Leilani Estates community had to be evacuated owing to fast-moving lava from Fissure 7, one of 24 cracks that have opened up since the eruptions began on May 3.
At 7:00 pm local time yesterday, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) issued a statement warning that “a large perched lava pond created by lava flow from Fissure 7 breached, creating a fast-moving lava flow that ran down Leilani Avenue and Luana Street in Leilani Estates.” The same fissure is spewing lava at heights reaching 150 to 200 feet (45 to 60 meters), and generating a spatter rampart that’s now 100 feet (30 meters) tall. Residents were told to expect power and water interruptions, and that they should be prepared to evacuate with little or no notice.
For some, that notice came a mere 45 minutes later, with the USGS declaring at 7:45 pm, “Leilani Estates residents on Nohea St and Luana St between Leilani Ave and Kahukai, and Kupono Street between Malama Street and Leilani Avenue need to evacuate immediately due to a fast-moving lava flow from Fissure 7.” Fleeing residents were told to seek shelter at nearby community centers.
The USGS is also warning of new ground cracking, and possible new outbreaks of lava flows. An evacuation plan is currently in place should Highway 130 be covered in lava, a development that would sever the community from the rest of the Big Island. US Marine Corps stationed at a base near Honolulu have a pair of CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters ready should this happen.
The crater at Kilauea is continuing to erupt sporadically, spewing ash into the air. On Sunday, the volcano produced an ash column that reached 10,000 feet high (3 km). “Additional explosive events that could produce minor amounts of ashfall downwind are possible at any time,” wrote the USGS. “Volcanic gas emissions at the summit remain high.”
Adding insult to injury, the Pacific Trade Winds are expected to diminish today, expanding the area impacted by vog—a noxious haze comprised of sulfur dioxide and other volcanic gases.
Another day, another batch of headaches. Hopefully, this will all end soon.