Part One – Geothermal Fracking in Hawaii


Wikipedia definition of Hydraulic Fracturing or “Fracking”: 

Hydraulic fracturing is the fracturing of rock by a pressurized liquid. 

Geothermal drilling started in the Big Island of Hawaii in 1993.  The Hawaii Geothermal Plant is known as the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) and is owned by Ormat Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: “ORA”).


The public company is now owned/managed primarily by the Bronicki Family and FIMI, an Israeli Private Equity Firm.The electricity generated from the PGV plant is purchased by Hawaiian Electric Company (HELCO).  PGV currently generates 38MW of electricity, and HELCO has a Request For Proposal in process to add an additional 50MW.

The Geothermal Fracking technique is similar to Oil and Gas Fracking in several ways.  Drilling is usually thousands of feet deep, then high pressure water is pumped into the hot rocks to fracture the rocks and expand the cracks.  The heated water is then returned to the surface to generate steam where it powers turbines for electricity.  Much like other forms of Fracking, pumping high pressure water into the Earth’s crust can disrupt the composition with unintended consequences, such as earthquakes.


There are different opinions on whether the techniques used at PGV are truly considered Fracking.  Some believe Geothermal Fracking is done only in Enhanced Geothermal Systems utilizing higher fluid pressure than used at PGV.   There are however, studies completed at PGV that reveal the fractures in the rocks are greatest surrounding the injection wells.  Page 55 of the Duke study concludes “The region of high fracture density is also consistent with the areas of the highest fluid production at PGV.”   Based on this evidence, using the strict definition of Fracking  ”Hydraulic fracturing is the fracturing of rock by a pressurized liquid” one can conclude Fracking has occurred at PGV.

Like other types of Fracking, with Geothermal Fracking there can be chemicals inadvertently released into the water tables and the atmosphere.  One chemical is hydrogen sulfide (H2S).  Exposure to high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can cause well-documented, adverse health effects.  The County of Hawaii recently published a study linking the adverse health to the citizens in the Puna area.   At the PGV plant in March, 2013, Hydrogen Sulfide was intentionally released into the atmosphere to reduce the steam pressure due to a failure of both transmission lines.  The plant also released Hydrogen Sulfide into the atmosphere during Hurricane Iselle on August 7, 2014.

August 7, 2014 Incident at PGV – Hydrogen Sulfide released into the neighborhood

PGV response to incident of August 7, 2014

Since the electricity is generated from water, and the water is recirculated into the ground where it is heated by the hot rocks, Geothermal is considered a renewable source of energy.   This “green” designation has convinced many into believing the practice is safe.As of 2011, Geothermal only accounted for 2% of the Renewable energy source in the US, so the technology is not widely used or heavily regulated  Also like other forms of Fracking, there has been a concerted, well organized effort to reduce regulation and oversight of the Geothermal drilling, usually by the companies with a financial interest in the drilling. There is very limited oversight state-wide in Hawaii.
Hydraulic or Geothermal Fracking and Earthquakes:

  • A July 12, 2013 USGS study has confirmed forcing high pressure water into the Earth via Fracking can increase the number of induced earthquakes.
  • July 27, 2013 study by the University of California – Santa Cruz confirmed the correlation between Geothermal Fracking and earthquakes.
  • 2013 study by the Committee on Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies; Committee on Earth Resources; Committee on Geological and Geotechnical Engineering; Committee on Seismology and Geodynamics; Board on Earth and Sciences and Resources; Division on Earth and Life Studies; and National Research Council  concludes Geothermal drilling causes earthquakes.

Following is an excerpt from the Executive Summary in this comprehensive study:

 “Induced seismicity in geothermal projects appears to be related to both net fluid balance considerations and temperature changes produced in the subsurface. Different forms of geothermal resource development appear to have differing potential for producing felt seismic events. High-pressure hydraulic fracturing undertaken in some geothermal projects has caused seismic events that are large enough to be felt. Temperature changes associated with geothermal development of hydrothermal resources have also induced felt seismicity.”

The graph below illustrates the number of earthquakes surrounding the PGV Power Plant, and the correlation to the injection of high pressure fluid at Well KS-13, the most active injection well at PGV.  There have been other studies completed that directly correlate earthquakes to the injection and drilling at PGV.    To download the Executive Summary completed in September, 2013, please click here.

Correlation of Fluid Injection (Klbs of fluid) at PGV in Well KS-13 to earthquakes in the Puna area.

PGV Quake Inj Correlation KS-13

(Click to enlarge graph)

Source of earthquake data:  Advanced National Siesmic System - ANSS, Source of Injection Data is the EPA


August 7, 2014 Incident at PGV – Hydrogen Sulfide released into the neighborhood

One testimonial of the human damages on August 7, 2014

PGV Plant cited for 14 EPA violations

The Hawaii Environmental Law Proposal has two separate parts:

PART ONE:  Fracking  can harm our health and environment and create unnecessary risk to the citizens of Hawaii. PROPOSED SOLUTION ONE:  Prohibit Fracking  within Hawaii and its coastal waters, including any expansion of Geothermal Fracking.
PART TWO:  Increased use of Liquified  Natural Gas within Hawaii promotes and rewards Fracking in the mainland, it will very likely increase Hawaii  energy costs when the gas  price is increased, (as expected), and it will delay the Hawaii conversion to renewable energy and independence from fossil fuels. PROPOSED SOLUTION TWO:  Either convert Hawaii’s energy sources directly to wind and solar energy, and/or provide strict limitations on the purchase of natural gas.   These limitations should guarantee natural gas imported to Hawaii is obtained from non-Fracking sources and the price is no higher than the market price for all natural gas.

In summary, Hawaii should join the growing list of states who have enacted legislation to limit or prohibit Fracking.  In light of the new evidence proving Fracking causes earthquakes, this should be done before Geothermal Drilling or Enhanced Geothermal drilling spreads to Maui and Oahu.  On the Big Island, a Geothermal Fracking expansion is planned by HELCO and there are studies to evaluate the geothermal “opportunity” on Maui (base of Haleakala) and Oahu near Waimanalo and Waianae.   You can help to make a difference.

Please also sign the petition now.

3 Responses to Part One – Geothermal Fracking in Hawaii

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