Ford launches pre-emptive strike against controversial procedure


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

First, there was GMOs. And now there’s fracking.

The Hawaii County Council will take on another controversial issue this month when it discusses a proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

The practice, which involves injecting fluids deep into the ground to access resources, is mostly associated with natural gas extraction on the mainland, where it has been criticized for contaminating water supplies.

While there may not be any natural gas resources in Hawaii, South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford said she is also concerned about fracking being used by geothermal companies, which prompted her to introduce the bill as a pre-emptive measure.

Ford said fluids used in fracking could threaten aquifers, providing a potentially disastrous environmental issue.

“We don’t want to contaminate our drinking water supply,” she said.

“We need to stop it before it starts,” Ford said.

Fracking fluids have included water, sand and certain chemicals.

Only one geothermal fracking project, also known as enhanced geothermal, has been connected to the grid in the United States.

That well belongs to Ormat Technologies, the parent company of Puna Geothermal Venture, which finished the fracking project in April at a plant in Nevada.

According to the company, fluids used for fracking were limited to water and some minerals, referred to as brine.

The water is used to widen cracks deep underground to increase their permeability, allowing more heat sources to be accessed.

“No chemicals or additives are used in (enhanced geothermal), rather we inject existing geothermal brine,” Ormat spokeswoman Heidi Bethel said in an email.

Don Thomas, a University of Hawaii at Manoa geochemistry professor, told the Tribune-Herald in March that he wasn’t aware of any fluids but water and sand being used with enhanced geothermal.

Thomas was speaking in response to an anti-fracking resolution introduced by state Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna.

Bethel in her email response also referenced a statement from the European Geothermal Association which said enhanced geothermal only requires water and brine “so that the composition of the water being injected matches that of the water occurring naturally in the subsurface.”

Fracking has also raised the concerns of increased earthquake activity.

Thomas, who couldn’t be reached Friday, previously said that enhanced geothermal can cause low levels of seismic activity.

PGV is the only geothermal plant in the state. It provides 38 megawatts of electricity.

The Hawaii Electric Light Co. is currently reviewing proposals for an additional 50 mgws.

Bethel said Ormat is still in the research and development phase with enhanced geothermal and has no plans to use it in Hawaii.

Ford’s legislation will be heard Sept. 17.

A penalty of $1,000 per violation would be enforced.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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