Hawaii volcano may threaten geothermal power plant

The volcano spewing lava hundreds of feet into the air on Hawaii’s Big Island may also threaten a geothermal power plant — where tens of thousands of gallons of highly flammable liquid are stored.

Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno told Sunday at a news conference the Puna Geothermal Venture, a geothermal power plant, has been evacuated and an emergency shutdown procedure was conducted.

There are still nearly 50,000 gallons of pentane stored at the site, according to Hawaii News Now.

“Everything is still on property, ” Magno said. “They moved it to high ground just in case any flowings would start going that style, give them a little more day. But their plans are made to get them out of there if it gets to that next level.”

The Puna Geothermal Venture, located near the most recent volcanic eruption on Hawaii’s Big Island. ( Hawaiian Electric company)

Pentane is a clear colorless liquid with a petroleum-like odor that’s a component of some fuels, and “is applied as a specialty solvent in the laboratory, ” according to PubChem, a public storehouse for information on chemical substances and their biological activities, run by the US National Institutes of Health.

The NIH lists pentane as an “extremely flammable liquid and vapor.”

The councilwoman for the district where the plant is located, Eileen O’Hara, told Hawaii News Now she was informed plant officials are complying with an approved evacuation plan previously approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and nation health department.

“If every drop-off of pentane that is being stored on site…were to erupt simultaneously, would it be able to cause a fire in the nearest residence? The evaluation says no. It might cause glass to shatter from the explosion, but it could not cause a fire at the nearest mansion, ” she told the news outlet.


The Puna Geothermal Venture, known as PGV, is a “geothermal energy conversion plant bringing steam and hot liquid up through underground wells, ” according to the Hawaiian Electric Company.

“The hot liquid( brine) is not used for electricity at this time. The steam is directed to a turbine generator that produces electricity, ” the power company told. “The exhaust steam from this turbine is used to vaporize( heat) an organic work liquid, which drives a second turbine, making additional electricity.”

Fissure 7 in Pahoa, Hawaii is seen from above on May 5. ( U.S. Geological Survey)

Magno said the current volcanic activity appears to be “stabilizing” and moving in the opposite direction of the plant. But, if the lava were to change direction and go to “the next step, ” officials would then start to remove the materials off the property.

That wasn’t enough for Leilani Estates resident William Braham, who told Hawaii News Now the plant was the main reason he chose to evacuate.

“I understand that the lava can come down, but much more likely, it’s going to come over here, ” Braham told. “And that’s immediately in the line of the geothermal. And that constructs me feel very, very unsafe.”

Travis Fedschun is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ travfed

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