Governor takes action to prevent explosion at Puna Geothermal Venture during eruption

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Puna Geothermal Venture has successfully moved all of its pentane gas to Shipman Business Park in Keaau, away from Kilauea Volcano’s latest eruption.

The removal was completed at 3:15 a.m. Thursday, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense, and comes after Gov. David Ige took action Wednesday to ensure a prompt response.

PGV is a geothermal energy conversion plant located on Kilauea’s Lower East Rift Zone, near the volcano’s current activity in Leilani Estates. The electricity generated by PGV is sold to Hawaii Electric Light Company and distributed to island customers.

The facility was shut down and secured when the eruption began, however, the concern involved roughly 60,000 gallons of highly flammable pentane gas and geothermal wells on PGV’s property that could trigger an explosion.

“That’s the two critical risks, the pentane onsite and the lava, or a fissure opening up in the facility, in the well head where the fuel is stored, (which) would clearly ignite the pentane on site,” Ige explained. “There have been discussions or estimates that should all the pentane onsite explode, that the blast radius might be as much as a mile.

“Thursday and Friday of last week, we had already identified that as an issue and had made a request that they move it offsite as soon as possible,” Ige continued. “They said they would get on it, and it’s still on the site, and that’s why I’m taking this action today.”

Janet Snyder, Hawaii County spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the removal was already in progress.

“Of the 60,000 gallons of, 67-plus gallons of pentane, they were moving it to Shipman today,” she said. “Fifteen-thousand gallons were moving over to Shipman and in the next couple of days, the remaining 50-some-odd-thousand gallons are being moved to Shipman, and it’ll be totally removed.”

The governor issued a supplemental emergency proclamation that allows him to intervene as necessary. For now, that involves putting together a team, which includes Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim and Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator Thomas Travis, to review PGV’s emergency response plan and take the independent steps necessary to protect the public. 

The state could also reach out to national experts if necessary.

“Clearly we would want to work with PGV and they will be part of this team, but we want to be certain that we have the authority to take whatever action is required to mitigate the risk to the community,” Ige said.

Contingency plans will be made to secure and evacuate area residents should lava intrusions cause elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) or sulfur dioxide (SO2) to be released.

Our efforts to contact a representative at Puna Geothermal Venture went unanswered.

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