15
$\begingroup$

There was lava in the area near the wells that the Puna Geothermal Venture facility created.

The plant has nine wells that run as deep as 8,000 feet, according to Wil Okabe, managing director for the County of Hawaii. -Washington Post

8,000 feet is really quite deep. While I understand that those are not the deepest wells created for geothermal energy, in Hawaii that seems deep enough to get to where lava would also be pooling.

For example, it would be deep enough to hit the pool at one of the main volcanoes.

Rocks that are moving upward in the mantle beneath Hawai`i begin to melt about 40 to 60 miles (60 to 100 km) depth. The molten rock, called magma , rises because of its relatively low density. The magma "ponds" in a reservoir 1 to 4 miles (2 to 6 km) beneath the summit. https://www.nps.gov/havo/faqs.htm

In addition to the availability of lava in the area near the wells, it seems that geothermal energy has also been linked to earthquake activity in the past.

An analysis of earthquakes in the area around the Salton Sea Geothermal Field in southern California has found a strong correlation between seismic activity and operations for production of geothermal power -UC Santa Cruz

Moreover, the facility itself is basically right on the location that the set of fissures opened up.

Puna GeoThermal Venture Map

As location of seismic activity is in question here, I also found a map from the US Geological Survey with 30 days of activity for this portion of Hawaii.

enter image description here
The largest circles are a 5.4 and 6.9, the smallest ones are equal to or greater than 2.5.

Given the proximity of the facility, as well as the fact that these wells were not only near underground lava, but also have been known in other areas to produce earthquakes, what roll, if any, could the Puna GeoThermal Venture have played in the recent fissure activity in Pahoa, Hawaii?

$\endgroup$
6
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think any answer would be speculative. What mechanism from the plant operation would affect the volcanic activity? I don't think the amount of heat or fluid removed would have any impact on the magma. It is true that fluid reinjection, as used at the plant, has been linked to increased seismic activity. It seems hard to believe that that would be significant compared to the pressures from the moving magma, and I would expect that it wouldn't have cause the initial fissures to open further to the southwest. It might be worth a study or at least some back of the envelope calculations. $\endgroup$
    – haresfur
    May 24 '18 at 2:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ My feeling is that "no" because the fissure (a surface representation of a dike) is orders of magnitude larger in scale and energy than that geothermal facility. $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    May 24 '18 at 5:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'd be very careful here about correlation / causation. The geothermal wells would naturally be drilled in a hot area. $\endgroup$ May 24 '18 at 8:51
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I would posit that the fissures' proximity to an active volcano has far more to do with the recent activity than a tiny (on a geologic scale) energy plant. I can state with some certainty that there has been volcanic activity in that area well before that plant was installed. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Nevins
    May 24 '18 at 13:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TravisJ I've edited my answer with some new information. $\endgroup$ Oct 9 at 12:44
7
$\begingroup$

Original answer

I think we can confidently enough answer "no".

From the report "Eruptions of Hawaiian Volcanoes—Past, Present, and Future" (Tilling et al. 2010):

Kilauea eruptions occur either at its summit or within two well-defined swaths (called rift zones) that radiate from the summit.

In the same report, you can see those rift zones on the map page 3, or on the sketch of the plumbing system page 24. Most lava flows are emplaced along these rift zones. For instance, look at this map of the 1955 eruption:

Vents and lava flows from the Kilauea eruption of 1955

Vents and lava flows from the Kīlauea eruption of 1955 superimposed on a USGS topographic map of the lower Puna region. (Credit: Trusdell, Frank. Public domain.)

You can see that the flows were emplaced in a zone very similar to the 2018 eruption. Apparently the power plant opened in 1993, and the first exploratory wells were drilled in 1961—62, so after this event.

Actually, the rift zones are in the lava flow hazard zone 1, i.e., the most severe. The zone is defined as follow by Mullineaux et al. (1987) (emphasis added):

Zone 1 consists of the summit areas and active parts of the rift zones of Kilauea and Mauna Loa; in those areas, 25 percent or more of the land surface has been covered by lava within historical time, during the 19th and 20th centuries. These areas contain the sites of most historical eruptions, and a large majority of the lava flows that will affect other zones on Kilauea and Mauna Loa in the near future probably will originate in zone 1.

So the real question is: why was the plant (and estates...) built in an area well known for lava flow hazards?!

To conclude, by researching the plant I found that it is actually where people accidentally drilled through a magma pocket for the first time (Teplow et al. 2009)! They hit a pocket of dacite; it did not trigger an eruption. This happened later in Iceland: this time, they even used it as an experimental well (there is a whole issue of Geothermics on this). Again, no eruption.


October 2021 Update

I just came upon a USGS report called "Have Humans Influenced Volcanic Activity on the Lower East Rift Zone of Kīlauea Volcano? A Publication Review" (Kauahikaua and Trusdell 2020), which asks (and answers) exactly the same question:

Questions about the relation between human activity or developments and active Hawaiian volcanoes usually are raised during eruptions. These concerns often regard the location of an industrial development, like a geothermal power generation facility, on a volcano (for example, Big Island Video News, 2019; Firozi, 2018). Since the 2018 eruption, the topic of whether commercial developments not only caused the eruption to occur in Kīlaueaʻs lower East Rift Zone (LERZ), but also caused it to erupt with a higher-than-normal rate has been a subject of public discussion.

They examined the past activity of the volcano (location, volume, frequency... of past eruptions), and compared it to the 2018 eruption, concluding (emphasis added):

There are no obvious effects of human activity on eruptions of Kīlauea volcano. There have been no significant changes due to human activity in patterns or trends of deformation or seismicity in the lower East Rift Zone in the last 35–50 years (before and during geothermal operations). The frequency and intensity of eruptions are variable, but it would be difficult to demonstrate a definitive change due to human activity. [...] We find no evidence to support claims that human activity triggered or influenced the 2018 lower East Rift Zone eruption. The 2018 eruption was caused by injection of magma downrift from Puʻu ʻŌʻō and the summit of Kīlauea. The event fits a pattern of activity that has occurred many times previously on the East Rift Zone and is within the range of normal behavior for Kīlauea Volcano.

So again the answer is "no", but the USGS is a source a bit more authoritative than me! :)

$\endgroup$
2
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for taking the time to write this up, the citations are very reputable. Highlighting the issue of the rift zones, the historical activity, similar circumstance, and the classifications from the USGS are all strong indicators that the plant did not contribute to the flow. $\endgroup$
    – Travis J
    Jan 8 '20 at 21:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Geeze Louise this is a great post! $\endgroup$
    – f.thorpe
    Oct 9 at 2:43
0
$\begingroup$

No, Volcanoes been erupting since the 80's. What happens is that topography determines where the lava will flow. A build up of material on western side, next eruption is more likely to deposit south or east; whatever blocks it.

$\endgroup$
-3
$\begingroup$

Reinjection of cooling effluent over decades has got to break down the rock, in fact it probably explodes the rock into tiny pieces which after decades crumbles and lets the lava move...

All of the scholarly industry information available says not to place geothermal plants in seismically active areas...

$\endgroup$
2

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.