East Hawaii News

Testimony in Pahoa Nearly Unanimous For Drilling Restrictions

November 2, 2012, 7:46 PM HST
* Updated November 4, 8:18 AM
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PAHOA — Supporters of a bill that would ban nighttime drilling for geothermal wells came out in force tonight for a public hearing held by the County Council.

All but one of the 38 people testifying from the crowd of about 75 people were in support of the bill proposed by Chairman Dominic Yagong that would prohibit drilling between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The only person testifying against the measure was Mike Kaleikini, manager of the Puna Geothermal Plant, who said there are serious safety concerns associated with the bill. A geothermal consulting company has said that shutting down drilling overnight could cause a failure of the well or release of geothermal gas.

Tom Travis said if that is the case, the operating permit granted by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources should reflect the possible danger from temporary drilling stoppages that already occur.

“I just think that’s disengenous,” Travis, a retired naval nuclear engineer, told Big Island Now.

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In response, Kaleikini acknowledged that temporary stoppages occur and do present the same kind of threats to well integrity and other concerns, but added that shutting down the well for 12 hours each day would greatly increase that threat.

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Some speakers – the ones that got the biggest applause from the crowd – said they were against any geothermal development in the area whatsoever.

“We’ve got to plug those holes,” said Greg Plescia.

Most of those testifying said noise from the drilling at Puna Geothermal Venture disrupted their sleep. Some claimed that the drilling caused a low-frequency sound that is not audible but was annoying none the less.

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Some of the attendees at the Pahoa Community Center carried signs, including one saying “We Need Our Sleep.”

Steve Hirakami encouraged council members to pass the bill, comparing the situation to noise controls at a construction project.

Hirakami said he first moved to the Pohoiki area where PGV is located when the project began in the 1980s. Drilling then was done with virtually no sound relief, he said.

“We’ve come a long way since then but not far enough,” Hirakami said.

Some testifiers downplayed concerns that PGV might sue the county if the bill becomes law and denies the company rights already vested under existing permits.

The council is scheduled to take a final vote on the bill on Friday, Nov. 9, in Hilo.

***Updated Nov. 4 to correct drilling times.***

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