Lava From Kilauea Volcano Reaches Well At Geothermal Power Plant

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 moving west from Fissure 7 on Leilani Avenue on Sunday, May 27. Photo: USGS

"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 Defence Agency in a statement released on Sunday, May 27 at 6:00PM local time. "That well, along with a second well 100 feet [30m] 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 227,125l 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 writing, 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 per cent of power to the Big Island.

Fissure 7 on Sunday May 27. Image: USGS

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 7:00PM 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 45 to 60m, and generating a spatter rampart that's now 30m 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 7:45PM, "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 centres.

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.

Aerial view of KÄ«lauea Volcano's summit. Photo: USGS

The crater at Kilauea is continuing to erupt sporadically, spewing ash into the air. On Sunday, the volcano produced an ash column that reached 3km high. "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 sulphur dioxide and other volcanic gases.

Another day, another batch of headaches. Hopefully, this will all end soon.

[Hawaii County Civil Defence, USGS, CNN, Reuters]