Letters 10-28-2012


Geothermal

Repeal Act 55, answer lingering questions

Abolishing the Public Land Development Corp. by repealing Act 55 will allow the residents of Hawaii the time to answer these vital questions about geothermal development:

1. What happens to the state’s power supply in case of a lava flow? “The possibility of an eruption in the geothermal resource or state-wide cable path within any 50-year period is between 60 and 90 percent,” according to the Hawaii Volcano Observatory.

2. Will geothermal actually raise the cost of living in Hawaii? Would this huge investment be made if consumers weren’t ultimately footing the bill? An undersea cable is way too costly, and too risky. Massachusetts studied, and ultimately rejected, undersea cables using similar technology as a “high-risk” installation, too expensive to construct, with too many severe environmental impacts and too difficult to maintain … and Massachusetts isn’t in a Lava Zone 1.

3. The small existing PGV well in Puna has a history of 18 civil defense emergencies and one total blowout, in which residents were evacuated from their homes. What is a worst-case scenario if all these larger wells are built?

4. How many birth defects would this cause? How many respiratory ailments? How many cases of neurological damage? Can emissions during drilling exceed the fatal dose for hydrogen sulfide or sodium dioxide? Is it true that air quality monitors were set 6 to 10 feet above ground level, so that these heavier-than-air gasses, which blanket the ground, would be under-reported at the existing PGV plant?

5. What levels of mercury and arsenic will be released into the environment? How do all these toxins interact with each other and with vog?

6. How many properties are within a 1-mile radius? 10 miles? 100 miles? How will owners be compensated?

7. If geothermal drilling created a “wild well” in California, isn’t it possible that an uncappable environmental disaster could be the result here? Is it true that Hawaii’s geothermal resource (drilling 7,000 plus feet into a live volcano) is far more polluting than California’s “clean steam” geothermal, which taps geysers?

8. If geothermal drilling created an eruption in Iceland, couldn’t that happen here?

9. Can geothermal cause earthquakes, massive land subsidence, or lifting up of the land here, as it has elsewhere? Reinjection of geothermal pollutants caused Basel, Switzerland, to experience upward of 10,000 seismic incidents measuring up to 3.4 on the Richter Scale within six days after a nearby geothermal plant started its water injection program. Both Switzerland and California have abandoned geothermal plants due to earthquakes caused by geothermal. New Zealand has land subsidence of over 40 feet at the Wairakei geothermal well, and Breisgau, Germany, has experienced lifting up of the land, cracking structures nearby, including the city hall.

10. If toxic emissions are reinjected, will this poison groundwater, and hence, the ocean? What happens if an earthquake ruptures underground pipes or containment basins?

11. How will the toxic waste solids be handled? Will this “geothermal sludge” containing arsenic and other heavy metals be stored in sumps on site? What happens if containment basins are fractured? Will precipitation and erosion eventually release these toxic compounds into the soil and aquifers?

12. Is it true that while drilling, contractors are permitted to vent up to 500 ppm of hydrogen sulfide into the atmosphere? With an eruption that has been ongoing for decades, the last thing we need is to add a potentially lethal cocktail of chemicals released into the air. Kona’s air quality could be enormously impacted by geothermal development in Puna. Because of the inversion layer in the atmosphere, poisonous emissions will stay in the air above Kona for extended periods of time. Smaller particles ranging from .1 to .5 microns or less remain airborne “indefinitely.” These particles can enter the body through the respiratory system. Substances such as mercury accumulate without being eliminated. Hydrogen sulfide emissions tend to be in the penetrating smaller-size particles.

13. Hydrogen sulfide is much more dangerous than was previously known. H2S is a chemical asphyxiant, similar to carbon monoxide and cyanide gases.

14. Isopentane is a highly flammable liquid, with a boiling point of 82 degrees, which can explode if vapors contact air. How will this chemical be transported to the geothermal wells safely? In trucks over our roadways? Is it true that the small existing well stores around 60,000 gallons, but “loses” 40 gallons per day? How is it released into the environment? Is it true that the fire in 2003 was caused by an explosion of isopentane? What will be the blast zone if the isopentane in the proposed, larger wells were to explode? Could this be caused by earthquake or lightning strike?

15. What will be the effects on animals, plants, and sea life, as well as humans?

16. Aren’t there better alternatives?

Beth McCormick

The Permaculture Foundation of Hawaii