By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
County residents got their first chance to weigh in Tuesday on the future, or lack thereof, of hydraulic fracturing — a process also known as “fracking” — on Hawaii Island.
At its first hearing at a meeting of the County Council’s Committee on Agriculture, Water and Energy Sustainability, Bill No. 129 garnered plenty of support from residents. In fact, none of the approximately 35 testifiers spoke in opposition to the bill.
Introduced by South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford, the bill would effectively ban the practice of injecting fluids deep into the ground to access resources. Most commonly, the process is associated with natural gas extraction on the mainland, where it has been criticized for contaminating water supplies. Fracking fluids have been known to contain water, sand and certain chemicals.
Ford says she introduced the bill because she is concerned about the likelihood that geothermal companies may resort to the process in their efforts to generate energy from the lava flowing beneath Hawaii Island’s surface. It’s a process referred to as “enhanced geothermal.” Among her concerns, Ford has said she fears using the process here could threaten aquifers.
Many of those who took to the microphone Tuesday echoed those sentiments.
“I think we’ve all heard of the fracking nightmares that have occurred on the mainland,” said Jon Olsen. “The volcanic nature of our island leaves us particularly vulnerable to damage to our groundwater.”
Dave Kisor warned that the excessive amounts of water needed by the fracking process, as well as the possibility of chemicals entering into the water supply, could end up cutting into Hawaii’s abundant fresh water for drinking.
“Towns in West Texas have been fracked and dehydrated virtually out of existence,” he said.
Shannon Rudolph pointed to the recent, disastrous flooding in Colorado as an example of a bad situation made worse by fracking.
“The toxic chemical usage goes in the wastewater,” she said. “In Colorado, there are chemicals from fracking wells floating down the rivers.”
In addition to water concerns, many speakers cited an increase in earthquake activity as a fear they had of allowing fracking on the island.
Twenty-five-year Big Island resident Judith Mura said she had consulted with her homeowners’ insurance provider about earthquake damage resulting from geothermal fracking, only to learn that her only recourse would be to launch a class action lawsuit.
“There’s nothing we could do beforehand, if we lose our homes to earthquakes, if they fall into the lava tubes. By that point, we would all be without our homes,” she said.
Several speakers pointed to claims that fracking could as much as double earthquake activity in certain circumstances.
“We had 290 in Puna last year,” said Steve Sparks. “That would be like 580 earthquakes. That’s a lot of earthquakes.”
Several of the speakers also pointed to cultural concerns as being a good reason to put up a “stop sign” to fracking on the Big Island.
“The entire island is nothing but a bunch of lava tubes layered on top of each other, and many of them are burials. From a cultural standpoint, it’s a concern,” said Hanalei Fergerstrom. “There are cultural considerations not being considered. … We’re a separate island and we have interests in our resources. We need to look at home rule.”
Many of the attendees at Tuesday’s meeting gave Ford credit for taking a proactive approach to dealing with the fracking question before companies try to use it here. Ormat Technologies, the parent company of Puna Geothermal Venture, recently completed a fracking project at a plant in Nevada, becoming the only such project to be connected to the U.S. power grid.
Testimony from the Hawaii County residents appeared to be mainly from Puna residents, many of whom have been outspoken about the existing geothermal project in Pohoiki. Many of the attendees wore T-shirts that read “Save Pohoiki.”
State Sen. Russell Ruderman, who reported that he was tackling the same issue of geothermal fracking at the state level, told the council members to live up to their responsibility to protect the island.
“I urge you to pass this bill to protect our water table from irreversible damage from fracking,” he said. “Here in Hawaii, we’ve been lucky to take water for granted, but it won’t be that way forever.”
He added that should geothermal fracking be used within the state, “it’s more than likely going to happen here first.”
“This isn’t an imaginary concern. It’s of great importance, the drinkable water on our island. Protecting it is what we have to do. Otherwise, we might find ourselves up a creek without a paddle, and that creek won’t be drinkable,” he said to laughter.
Three or four speakers urged council members to watch the 2010 documentary film “Gasland.” The Academy Award-nominated film centered on the attempts by filmmaker Josh Fox to document the impacts of natural gas fracking on communities around the country. Some of the more affecting footage from the film included shots of a family turning on its kitchen sink faucet and lighting the water on fire.
Puna resident William Bratram told the council members that he would be happy to provide each of them with their own copy of the film.
“I invite you to really look at it and see it on your own terms,” he said.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.