Lava From Hawaii Volcano Reaches Geothermal Plant for First Time in History

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
May 28, 2018US News
Lava From Hawaii Volcano Reaches Geothermal Plant for First Time in History
Lava from a Kilauea volcano fissure advances up a residential street in Leilani Estates, on Hawaii's Big Island, on May 27, 2018 in Pahoa, Hawaii. Lava also flowed to a geothermal power plant today raising fears that toxic gas could be released if wells are breached by lava. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Lava from the Kilauea volcano has reached the site of a geothermal plant in Hawaii but officials said that no gas release has been detected.

Officials with Civil Defense said in an alert that lava covered at least one well at the Puna Geothermal Venture on Sunday, May 27, but that the well, and another well 100 feet away, are both stable and secure.

Neither well is expected to release any hydrogen sulfide, the officials added.

“All of the production wells nearest to the lava flow are plugged and shut in,” plant spokesman Mike Kaleikini told Hawaii News Now. “As long as conditions are safe, we will have personnel on site. Primary concern is sulfur dioxide from the eruption and lava coming on site. We monitor for hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide on a continuous basis.”

Kaleikini said that the lava movement appears to have stalled.

Residents in the area were alerted around 6:15 a.m. on Sunday about lava creeping onto the plant’s site, noting that no hydrogen sulfide release had been detected.

In preparation for the lava reaching the site, officials quenched 10 of the 11 wells. That means they injected the wells with water to cool and depressurize them.

An 11th well that didn’t respond to quenching was plugged with clay.

Officials noted that there could be other potential dangers they aren’t aware of when lava interacts with the wells, since lava has never engulfed a geothermal plant anywhere in the world, the head of the state’s emergency management agency told Reuters.

The Israeli-owned plant usually provides around a quarter of the electricity on the Big Island. Plant officials removed 60,000 gallons of flammable liquid soon after the volcano erupted in preparation for contact as well as deactivating the wells that tap into steam and gas in the earth’s core to produce energy.

Since Kilauea erupted on May 3, lava has advanced out of Kilauea’s summit lava lake and flowed around 25 miles east underground, bursting out of around two dozen cracks or fissures near the plant.

Dozens of houses have been destroyed by the lava and thousands of residents have been evacuated.

Up to 1,000 residents who have not evacuated may have to if fissure activity cuts off Highway 130, the last exit route for the people who live on the coast, according to officials with the U.S. Marine Corps and National Guard.

More residents in some parts of the Leilani Estates neighborhood were ordered to evacuate around 8 p.m. on Sunday night due to lava flow from one fissure, labeled Fissure 7. According to the United States Geological Survey, the lava from Fissure 7 and Fissure 8 broke free from the fissures and advanced north through the neighborhood before reaching Kahukai Street at its intersection with Hookupu.

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