The eruption from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has opened over 20 fissures of molten lava on Hawaii’s Big Island. This volcanic activity has shot multiple molten boulders into the air and has even injured a person with a smoldering projectile. But things could potentially get a whole lot worse.
On Sunday, the Hawaii Civil Defense Agency alerted residents that two lava fissures have entered an area where Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) houses its geothermal wells. The flow has covered a plugged well and is roughly 100 feet away from another well that was said to be “stable and secured” by officials.
Governor David Ige told Reuters that the plant was “sufficiently safe” form the lava that has claimed dozens of buildings in the nearby Leilani Estates residential area and caused more than 10,000 locals to evacuate.
When Kilauea began its eruption on May 3, authorities took preventative measures by completely shutting down the plant, removed 60,000 gallons of flammable liquid, and disabled all of its wells.
Geothermal wells tap into naturally produced thermal energy underneath the Earth’s surface. These mechanisms harvest steam and gas to provide electricity for the Big Island.
This is the first time in history that lava from a volcanic eruption has ever immersed a geothermal power plant, so while safety measures have been taken this is all uncharted waters. A break or fracture in the wells could potential cause an explosion that would release hydrogen sulfide and various other hazardous gases.
It’s unlikely that this will cause any immediate harm to locals because of evacuations, but it’s unclear what environmental damages an explosion of this kind could cause. The Hawaii Civil Defense Agency will continue monitoring the safety of these wells and update the public.