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Geothermal Broken Down by USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

The After Dark at the Park event at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park always draw a crowd, but this past Tuesday's talk was different.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists usually give presentations updating the activity on east rift zone, or the eruptive history of Kiluaea or Mauna Loa, but this time the talk was on geothermal energy. Its a heated topic this days, wrought with political pitfalls and big business interests.

After years of debate over the benefits and safety of geothermal energy on Hawaii Island, the community remains divided, even as Puna Geothermal Venture pumps out 38 megawatts on the volcanic lands outside Pahoa.

Meanwhile, HVO scientists — who study the dangerous gases and seismic activity of the volcano on a daily basis — have remained mostly quiet.

However, in a June 2012 Volcano Watch article written by staff of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, scientists warned about over-development of the volcanic resource along the volatile rift zone, where the resource is most abundant. The article said an eruption’s effect on the industry could be severe, as sites could be deeply buried by lava, cutting off the energy supply for weeks, months, or even years. The article added:

The effects of an eruption would be more profound as the geothermal power development increased in size. If a 500-MW power generation facility were developed within the lower east rift zone of Kilauea and power exported to O`ahu and Maui, a volcanic disruption would have state-wide effects.

The indication has emboldened geothermal opponents, who often cite the article when decrying the industry. On Tuesday, geologists set out to provide an impartial, scientific analysis of the geothermal resource on the rift zone.

Scientist-in-charge Jim Kauahikaua explained the focus of the talk story at the start of the presentation.

Kauahikaua started off in the days of King David Kalakaua, then moved on to the 1960s when a possible industry began to develop.

By the 70s, geothermal well tests were underway, which paved the way for commercial exploration.

Kauahikaua also went into the hazards — concerns about drilling (see the Volcano Watch article below), earthquakes, and eruptions were covered.

Gas hazards are of equal concern, especially to residents who live near a geothermal power plant.

Then, it was on to a Q&A with the audience, many of whom are well educated about the modern-day geothermal industry, since many of them live in the backyard of Puna Geothermal Venture. Watch the full meeting below:

This article was originally published on and was republished with permission.

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