Tag Archives: Iceland

Natural Gas, Hydrogen, & What Kids Learn in Fourth Grade

Richard Ha writes:

The online site Peak-oil.org has an interesting write-up about natural gas and essentially points out that its high decline rate will make the recent spike in natural gas relatively short-lived.

U.S. LNG exports: What Would Randy Udall Say?

There has been considerable talk in the US of late about not only future energy exports but even about using an “energy weapon” against Russia.  While that might be nice, it’s wishful thinking.

An energy commentator who thought in depth about the US’s energy policy back-story and the myth of oil independence was Randy Udall, who passed away suddenly in late June last year.  

On March 21, 2013, during one of his last presentations, Randy delivered some remarks, accompanying a set of power-point slides, which provide the type of cautionary background that Washington insiders—including his brother Senator Mark Udall and cousin Senator Tom Udall—should heed.

His complete remarks, now posted on YouTube, were recently transcribed by Steve Andrews; key points are listed below.  The first remark about natural gas exports is actually a response to a question from the audience; the remainder is from his loosely scripted remarks. 

  • This meme that we’ve got a 100-year supply of natural gas started at the Colorado School of Mines.  They have a volunteer group there called the Potential Gas Committee, but the Potential Gas Committee is not looking at proven reserves; they’re looking at how much carbon might there be in 5000 feet of the Mancos shale.
  • I look around and I start running the numbers.  You know how much we’ve produced in this part of the world, in Weld County and Larimer County and the DJ Basin and the Wattenberg field we’ve been drilling for 80 years?  Now, this field is primarily an oil field.  But in that 80-year period of time we’ve produced enough natural gas to run the US for four months.
  • In the Powder River Basin, with those 25,000 natural gas wells, we’ve produced enough natural gas to run the US for four or five months.  When you look into it, there are only about six natural gas plays that are of any size; they’re dominated by three or four of the big ones—the Marcellus in Pennsylvania…maybe it will end up supplying five years’ of US gas demand over the next 60 or 70 years….

Read the rest

This next video—of Randy Udall speaking at the Colorado Renewable Energy Society meeting in 2013—shows what it looks like down there where we are fracking for oil and gas; it shows how the world looked millions of years ago when the oil and gas was forming. Ingenious human beings. This is a very good video if you are interested in this topic.

It’s also very interesting to see how ingenious the oil and gas industry folks are as they developed the technology that resulted in fracking. It’s incredible. But, as Nate Hagens points out, after shale oil and gas, it’s all gone. There’s no more. (I wrote about the global resource depletion authority Nate Hagens, his visit to our farm earlier this year, and his reactions to what we’re doing there.)

But, for us here in Hawai‘i, we can do what Iceland did. With cheap electricity, they make hydrogen on site and they have a hydrogen refueling station. I went over there and looked at it myself. The cars are rolling out now. They are eighty percent green and they will be ninety percent fossil free. We can do the same here with our curtailed and otherwise unused electricity.

We could also create a mini-ammonia processing plant. We really have a lot of interesting and real possibilities.

Leslie Lang, who helps me with this blog, and I were talking about this, and the importance of respecting the past while planning for the future, and she told me about a field trip her daughter took in fourth grade at Kamehameha Schools.

The theme was “Preservation vs. Progress,” and she went along to chaperone. She shared with me something she wrote about it at the time and I asked her if I could include some of her words here, because it really makes the point well that we must honor the past but lead the way into the future. I’m glad they are teaching that to our kids.

Unlike in the old days, when we followed the teachings of the missionaries,today and tomorrow our kids need to be the ones leading the direction based on a healthy respect for our history.

(Note too that we cannot just blindly follow what the folks in the cold country are doing, either. This is not cold country. Some things apply and some things don’t.)

From Leslie, on the fourth grade “Preservation vs. Progress” field trip she accompanied:

The teachers did a great job of talking about the importance of preserving our past, our wahi pana (sacred places), as well as how progress brings what is sometimes necessary change, and how we have to balance those things. We saw this first at Pu‘ukohola Heiau in Kawaihae.

Kamehameha was told that if he built a heiau at that site, he would be able to unite the very divided islands. The ranger explained that if you traveled from Kea‘au (where the school is) to Kawaihae (where the heiau is) in the old days, you’d travel through several different chiefdoms, many of which would be at war with each other. It would be dangerous and difficult. Those wars lasted for 500 years.

He talked about how the heiau was built, and had the kids try to lift a relatively small rock compared to some of the rocks in the heiau. Some of these kids could, and many couldn’t. 

The heiau was so important to Kamehameha, who believed he would receive the gods’ mana upon building it, that this happened: His younger brother was to be its kahu (priest), and he told the brother not to touch any of the rocks. But the brother did, he pitched in to help, and Kamehameha saw. He was worried about that disturbing the mana that he took the rocks his brother touched out in a wa‘a, a canoe, and went far out into the ocean and dumped them.

The rocks that make up Pu‘ukohola all came from Pololu Valley, about 25 miles away. They were passed hand to hand along a very long human chain of men. We know this because occasionally a rock was dropped, and then it was not used in the heiau so it was left where it lay. There is still a rough path of large pohaku, rocks, lining the route from Pololu to Pu‘ukohola. 

Just off Pu‘ukohola there used to an island called Puaka‘ilima, we learned. It was significant because the ‘ilima flower grew all over that island, and that’s a flower that is cherished for leimaking (and you need hundreds of blossoms to make one lei).

That treasured island was destroyed, blown up, when the state decided it needed to dredge the harbor so big ships could come in with food and supplies. 

Here was the point of that day’s lesson. Progress = change. We have all these people here and are not producing enough food on our own anymore, so we need ships to bring in enough food for us all to eat. That’s why they had to destroy the island. In this case, progress and preservation were at odds. 

Was this the only way to solve that problem? asked the kumu (teacher). I don’t know, she said. Was it the best decision? I don’t know, she said. I don’t know all the details.

“But some day it is going to be you children making these decisions. You are going to have to weigh preservation vs. change.” You have to know about the past and the present to make good decisions about the future, she told them.

Then we went to Kona, to the King Kamehameha Hotel. This is a touristy spot—but just at the back of the hotel is a very important historical place called Kamakahonu. Ahu‘ena Heiau is there, and that’s where Kamehameha died. It was both the end of the story we had been hearing of his life, and another demonstration of preservation vs. progress.

Before we got there, the kumu looked hard at the kids and talked to them for quite a long time about how we are not going there for the hotel, or to look at all the guests, or to talk about the pool. We were not going there to play. 

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “I like this hotel. It’s where I stay when I come to Kona. But that’s not what we are here for today.” She told them they were there to respect and learn about the heiau. 

Again she talked to them about focusing, and she told them this was going to be the hardest place of all to focus because of all the stuff, the playing, going on all around us. But she told them they needed to do so, to focus, to chant with their attention in the right place.

When they’d been at the Pololu overlook, they’d had this same reminder. When they were done there with their chants and their song about the place, tourists all around us broke into applause. Of course the tourists didn’t know, but it felt inappropriate because although, yes, these kids sound good, they were not entertaining. They were facing the valley and the ocean, not the people, and were paying their respects. 

And when that applause broke out, not one kid looked around, like they would have if it had been a concert for fun. They kept their focus and their attention. It was very interesting to see and not a little impressive.

So back to the hotel, where the kids walked through the somewhat crowded lobby single file and in silence. It was pretty impressive, because believe me these kids can also be normal fourth graders: loud and boisterous. But apparently they also know when not to be. It was really something—people stopped and watched.

We were expected, and hotel Security knew we were going to go into the heiau area beyond the normal kapu (keep out) signs. The kids chanted, and we heard more about the significance of that heiau, and again, Kumu talked about preservation (the heiau) vs. progress/change (the hotel). She presented it so well. She stressed again that someday they are going to be the ones who have to weigh the one against the other. That they have to know both the past and the present to determine the future.

The kumu kept stressing that they were giving these stories about the past to the kids and it was their kuleana, their responsibility, to remember them and pass them on. You cannot make good decisions about preservation vs. progress if you don’t know the importance of what is there to preserve, they said.

It was such an impressive and important field trip. I am not a fourth grader, and I got a hundred times more out of it than I expected. So well thought out and presented. Our kids are very fortunate to be learning such important lessons.


HECO Needs to Match Output to Customer Needs

Richard Ha writes:

Our electric utility needs to match up its output with customer needs. Renewable sources of electricity such as wind and solar have short- and long-term problems with fluctuation. That’s why the utility needs to have electricity generation units on standby.

We are so fortunate here to have geothermal electricity, which is not only stable but is also cheaper than wind and solar, all things considered.

And we know that geothermal works in Iceland. In spite of that country’s recent economic crash caused by irresponsible bankers, Iceland is one of the highest-rated countries in the world in terms of quality of life issues.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Hawaii confronts ‘green’ energy’s bugaboo: batteries

Hawaii and California utilities are moving to add storage on their grids to accommodate ‘green’ energy and better match production energy production and consumption. But storage is still expensive. 

By Ken Silverstein, Contributor / May 11, 2014

Hawaii Electric Co. – no stranger to solar power – has a problem with the sun.

When it shines, so much energy from utility and home-based solar panels comes surging in that it can overload some circuits in the grid and, potentially, cause a power surge that damages home and office equipment. When the sun goes into hiding, the utility has to generate power from somewhere else. That’s why the utility is casting a net to find vendors that could supply it with the technology to store electricity….

Read the rest


Hawaii: A Microcosm Of The 1914 World

Richard Ha writes:

Christine Lagarde, director of the International Monetary Fund, just gave a very significant speech about where the world is at right now, and—very interesting—how similar it is to where the world was at exactly one hundred years ago, in 1914.

I was struck by how, right now, right here in Hawai‘i, we are a microcosm of what was happening in the world a hundred years ago.

From Christine Lagarde’s speech:

I invite you to cast your minds back to the early months of 1914, exactly a century ago. Much of the world had enjoyed long years of peace, and giant leaps in scientific and technological innovation had led to path-breaking advances in living standards and communications. There were few barriers to trade, travel, or the movement of capital. The future was full of potential.

Yet, 1914 was the gateway to thirty years of disaster—marked by two world wars and the Great Depression. It was the year when everything started to go wrong. What happened?

What happened was that the birth of the modern industrial society brought about massive dislocation. The world was rife with tension—rivalry between nations, upsetting the traditional balance of power, and inequality between the haves and have-nots, whether in the form of colonialism or the sunken prospects of the uneducated working classes.

By 1914, these imbalances had toppled over into outright conflict. In the years to follow, nationalist and ideological thinking led to an unprecedented denigration of human dignity. Technology, instead of uplifting the human spirit, was deployed for destruction and terror. Early attempts at international cooperation, such as the League of Nations, fell flat. By the end of the Second World War, large parts of the world lay in ruins.

Right now, in 2014, we are heading into difficult times, which in fact have already started. We already see how the skyrocketing price of oil has impacted all our costs. Everything is, noticeably, much more expensive: electricity, plane tickets, gasoline, retail goods that have to be transported here, food that needs fertilizer and has to be cooled enroute here. Everything—and it’s only going up.

The story of 1914 is the story of what’s happening in Hawai‘i right now. We have serious divisions, and people yelling at each other about important issues. I don’t see people trying to come together to solve the many problems we are facing. Are we going to go the same way?

They’re doing it right in Iceland. A few years ago, Iceland had the biggest financial meltdown in history, and they’ve turned it around very successfully. They looked at their resources, and used them very well. It’s working.

We are not doing this. Right now, everyone is running around trying to force solutions that benefit themselves. But individual solutions aren’t going to work. We need a big picture solution. We have to come together to seek answers for all of us.

As in Iceland, what we have going for us here is our geothermal potential. I’ve said this so many times now that it sounds like I have an agenda, but I don’t. I don’t gain anything from our increased use of geothermal energy except for what we all will gain: stable energy costs, stable food costs, stable everything costs. The ability to better afford living in Hawai‘i. The pleasure of knowing our kids and grandkids will be able to afford to stay and establish their career and family here, instead of taking off for a cheaper location on the mainland.

An increased use of our geothermal resource will make a big difference in the quality of our lifestyle.

Some people say solar energy is the answer, but that’s not it. Hawai‘i had the highest number of solar installations ever last year. Twenty years from now, when those people have to put on a new roof and redo the solar panels, what will the economy look like then? If oil spikes, they might not have the financing to pay for it. Will they be able to afford it?

The geothermal plant I toured in Iceland could last 60 years. My hydroelectric pipe will last 100 years. Solar is a temporary answer, and maybe it’s a bridge, but it’s not the solution.

Back to Lagarde: What happened to end those 30 years of war and economic disaster was that in 1944, leading economists from around the world came together in New Hampshire.

In her speech, Christine Lagarde said:

The 44 nations gathering at Bretton Woods were determined to set a new course—based on mutual trust and cooperation, on the principle that peace and prosperity flow from the font of cooperation, on the belief that the broad global interest trumps narrow self-interest.

This was the original multilateral moment—70 years ago. It gave birth to the United Nations, the World Bank, and the IMF—the institution that I am proud to lead.

The world we inherited was forged by these visionary gentlemen—Lord Keynes and his generation. They raised the phoenix of peace and prosperity from the ashes of anguish and antagonism. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Because of their work, we have seen unprecedented economic and financial stability over the past seven decades. We have seen diseases eradicated, conflict diminished, child mortality reduced, life expectancy increased, and hundreds of millions lifted out of poverty.

Now, in 2014, which direction are we going to take? The path they went down in 1914, which led to crisis and disaster? Or the 1944 coming together, which changed the disastrous path they/we were on, and from which we are still benefitting?

Let’s not go through 30 or more years of crisis and disaster. Let’s learn from the past, and from what others are doing around us. Let’s all pull together and think on a bigger scale.

Lagarde’s speech was titled, “A New Multilateralism for the 21st Century: the Richard Dimbleby Lecture.” You can read it here. Or watch the video here.


Iceland & Hydrogen Fuel

Richard Ha writes:

This is a video about Iceland's hydrogen project.


Now that fleets of fuel cell vehicles are being readied for roll out, Iceland is prepared and ready to get off petroleum for its land and sea transportation.

We can do the same with our curtailed – thrown away! – wind, geothermal and solar power.

I took these photos, posted on their hydrogen refueling station wall, in Iceland in 2011. They give a good, easy-to-read overview.

1. Iceland hydrogen refueling station

Bamboo hydro 006

Bamboo hydro 006

Bamboo hydro 006

Bamboo hydro 006


Agreed: Local Products Shouldn’t Be More Expensive

Richard Ha writes:

Over the weekend, Scott Bosshardt of Kea‘au had an important letter to the editor of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

His point was that products produced and purchased locally shouldn’t be more expensive than the same product purchased abroad.

One extremely important fact that the “Think Local, Buy Local” proponents shouldn’t overlook is that local businesses need to “price local.”

Products produced and purchased locally shouldn’t be more expensive than the same product purchased abroad.

He also wrote:

“Price local” instead of as if our Big Island-grown tomatoes and coconuts were imported from half way around the world or some other planet, then people will be much more inclined to “buy local.” This holds true for everything we produce here. Think about it. When you live in Columbia, you don’t pay more for coffee than you do in San Francisco.

He’s right: Prices are higher here, and we need to lower them. It’s what I keep talking about. We need to find a way that we can lower our costs.

I first noticed our farm costs rising steadily back in 2005 and 2006. Rising costs affect every aspect of our farm, and it was very worrisome. Looking into it, I realized that the rise in price was due to the price of oil increasing.

Here in Hawai‘i, we are being squeezed extra hard. More than 70 percent of our electricity comes from oil. Compare this to the U.S. mainland –  Hawaii’s primary competitor in many produce and food manufacturing categories – which relies on oil for only about two percent of its electricity generation.

As the price of oil rises, you can see how our local farmers and food manufacturers become less and less competitive with the mainland.

Farming is very energy intensive, and farmers’ refrigeration and water pumping costs have steadily gotten more expensive. Wholesalers’ and retailer refrigeration costs have gone up, too. This means food costs more.

Oil prices have quadrupled in the last 10 years, and this has put the economy into a continuous recession. Everything has been squeezed. Government workers’ pay has been cut. Electricity costs have gone up steadily. School budgets have been squeezed. Medical costs have risen.

I have so far attended five annual Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) conferences trying to figure out how to protect our farm from the rising price of oil. I don’t have a degree in chemistry or the sciences – but I am a farmer with common sense. So I spent my time figuring out who I can trust for good information

I determined that the folks at ASPO can be trusted because they have no other agenda than to produce good information. It is up to me to decide if their studies are valid or not, or whether I agree with their conclusion. On the other hand, I thought that people whose livelihood depends on putting on a happy face would probably just put on a happy face.

I have learned that the world has been using two to three times as much oil as it has been finding, a trend that continues. I’ve learned that the oil being produced now is much more expensive than what they found 50 years ago. It takes more energy now to get the energy. The cost of producing oil from shale and oil sands was $92 per barrel in 2011, and the floor price of oil is probably not much lower than that.

The era of cheap oil is over. And the stuff produced in the future will be even more costly, setting a higher floor as time goes by. Unless we do something, it will squeeze us all even more.

Look around: It is happening right now, even with a banner tourism year. Imagine what it will be like if we have a significant downturn.

Also important to note is that the rubbah slippah folks have less and less discretionary income. Consumer spending makes up two-thirds of our economy. Our consumers will have more spending money when we can lower the cost of our electricity.

What about the happy news that the U.S. will become the largest producer of oil and gas in the future? In 2009, Art Berman, a petroleum geologist,  showed that in a study of 4,000 gas wells in the Barnett Shale, most of the production came out in the first year. Sixteen-thousand wells later, we see that 90 percent of shale gas and shale oil wells were more than 90 percent depleted within five years. And the decline rate for all the wells is more than 30 percent. We will need to drill one third as many we have now just to keep production steady.

One can reasonably conclude that the shale gas and shale oil phenomenon may not be a game changer. It probably won’t make a large dent in world oil production.

Meanwhile, the overall trend continues. Most of the world’s oil is produced by giant and supergiant oil fields, and lots of them are declining. Folks who study this estimate that the decline rate is around 4 to 6 percent annually. That is about 3 million barrels a year. This is going on all day, every day, no matter what the stock market does.

What can we do on the Big Island to lower electricity costs, and the cost of locally produced food? Biomass and geothermal can do that today. There may be other choices maturing in the next few years, too.

Producing electricity from geothermal here costs half as much as producing it from oil. And the Big Island will be over the hot spot that provides us with geothermal for 500,000 to a million years.

Iceland is pulling itself out of the largest financial crash in history because it has cheap electricity from geothermal and can export fish.

Let’s say that one wanted to payoff an oil-fired plant that produces 60MW today. That difference in price would save $6,600/hour and $158,400 /day. This is more than $50 million per year. Seems like we could be creative with writing off stranded assets.

We are very lucky to have these options here.

Read more about this:

The Farmer’s Point of View on Geothermal and Biofuels

Let’s Fight Rising Electric Rates, Not Teachers


Testimony to OHA Supporting Geothermal

Richard Ha writes:

OHA is contemplating investing in geothermal. I am in favor of that, for the reasons that I mention below.

I sent the following testimony to OHA:


Subject:  OHA testimony re: Huena Power Co/IDG

April 17, 2013

Office of Hawaiian Affairs
711 Kapiolani St.
Honolulu, HI  96813

Aloha Chair Machado and Board members of OHA:

The Geothermal working group report, which Wallace Ishibashi and I co-chaired, recommended that geothermal be the primary base power for the Big Island. OHA was represented on the working group by trustee Robert Lindsey.

I believe that OHA should participate in geothermal development because it is an income source for OHA to provide services to the Hawaiian people. And it can influence the course of our people’s history.

Geothermal-generated electricity is proven technology, affordable and environmentally benign. The Big Island is expected to be over the “hot spot” for 500,000 to a million years so its price is expected to be stable.

The Pahoa School Complex in Puna, at 89%, has the highest number of students in the State who participate in the free/reduced school lunch program. Participation is related to family income. The Big Island has had electricity rates 25% higher than O‘ahu’s for as long as anyone can remember. So a large portion of the school budget, that should go to education, goes instead to pay for electricity. Yet the best predictor of family income is education. A lower electricity rate, generated by geothermal, will have a direct effect on education. And if OHA, through its influence, emphasizes education in the community, there will be even more positive results.

Rising electricity rates act like a giant regressive tax. The folks on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder are affected disproportionately. Those who can leave the grid, leave. Those who cannot leave end up paying more for the grid. Too often those folks will be Hawaiians.

Hawaiians should be able to live in their own land. Yet there are more Hawaiians living outside of the State, because they needed to move elsewhere to find jobs to raise their families. Exporting our children is the same as losing our land. OHA is in a position to drive the agenda so Hawaiians can afford to live at home.

During the development of the Geothermal Working Group report, Rockne Freitas arranged a meeting with Carl Bonham, Executive Director of the University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization (UHERO), and some staff.

I asked Dr. Bonham two key questions: “Is it fair to say that if the Big Island were to rely on geothermal energy for its primary base power as oil prices rises, shouldn’t we become more competitive to the rest of the world?” He said that was fair to say.

I asked: “Then is it fair to say that our standard of living would rise?” He said: “Yes.”

I am a farmer on the Hamakua coast with family ties — Kamahele — in lower Puna. I farmed bananas at Koa‘e in the late 70s and early 80s. I have been to five Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) conferences. I went to learn and to position my business for the future. I found that the world has been using two and three times the amount of oil than it has been finding for more than 30 years and that trend continues. The price of oil has quadrupled in the last 10 years.

Until the first ASPO conference, I was just minding my own business, being a banana farmer. But what I learned became my kuleana. I did not ask for it.

Until last year, when Kamehameha Schools sent Giorgio Calderone and Jason Jeremiah and Noe Kalipi went to the conference, I was the only person from Hawai‘i to attend. The subjects were always data driven and conclusions could be duplicated.

We have the resources here to dodge the bullet. We need to drive a clear agenda for the benefit of all the people, not just a few.

One of the controversial issues in the Puna district is H2S gas. I went to Iceland and sat in the Blue Lagoon, where a geothermal plant within a quarter mile emits geothermal steam into the atmosphere. Millions of tourists visit the Blue Lagoon for health purposes.

There are small geothermal wells within the city that are used to heat the residences and businesses. If you did not know what to look for, you wouldn’t even know they were there. I walked by and touched the walls.

A long term study of the effects of H2S on people who suffer from asthma was just completed. It was done in Rotorua. They found no correlation of asthma to daily ambient H2S levels of 20,000 parts per billion over a three-year period. The study indicated that there might be a beneficial effect because it relaxes the smooth muscles. See link above.

The human nose can detect levels of H2S at incredibly low levels: 5 parts per billion. The Department of Health requires reporting when levels exceed 25 parts per billion. The Rotorua study was done for three years at average levels that were 20,000 parts per billion. OSHA allows geothermal plant workers to work in a 10,000 parts per billion environment for 8 hours per day without a mask.

Wallace Ishibashi and I went to the Philippines with the delegation that Mayor Kenoi put together. We visited a geothermal plant that sat on a volcano that last erupted 100,000 years ago. Mauna Kea last erupted 4,000 years ago. We may have more resources than we know.

The Phillipines and Hawai‘i started geothermal exploration at the same time. They now have in excess of 1,200MW, while we have 38MW. We are so far behind them, a supposedly Third World country, that it is embarrassing.

OHA is in a unique position to be able to influence the future. It is as if we are getting ready to duplicate that first voyage from the south so many years ago. It’s not whether or not we are going. It’s who should go, and what should we put in the canoes? Mai‘a maoli? Popoulu? What else?

Richard Ha
President, Mauna Kea Banana Company

I am a member of the Hawaii Clean Energy Steering Committee, Board of Agriculture and farmer for 35 years.


Question: Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa

Richard Ha writes:

Richard Ha, Hamakua Springs

Q: How deep is the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland?

From Wikipedia: The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis.[1] The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C (98–102 °F). The Blue Lagoon also operates a Research and Development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the mineral-rich water.

The lagoon is a man-made lagoon which is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every 2 days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in.

A: I was there, and it’s waist high. People don’t stand up because it’s too cold outside. The steam rising in the back is partly H2S. But as with Japan’s onsens, the Blue Lagoon is looked upon as providing a health benefit.

More pictures of the Blue Lagoon here.


Reaching for Prosperity, Not Energy Security

In Iceland, where they use geothermal energy, their energy is 81 percent renewable, and the country is food- and energy-secure. Iceland has its house in order.

Now it’s negotiating for a 745-mile cable to England.

It’s clear to me that Iceland is reaching for prosperity, not for energy security.

Why can’t we shoot for prosperity for our future generations here in Hawai‘i?

Do we dare?


Health & Safety re: Geothermal in Puna

I was very encouraged at the County Council meeting on geothermal that was held in Pahoa this last Tuesday evening. The community had a chance to be heard.

The Puna community met several times prior to that meeting, and Steve Hirakami, acting as facilitator, identified the community’s main concerns. About 100 votes indicated that the Pele cultural issue was a top concern. Non-Hawaiians taking this position vastly outnumber Hawaiians. Seventy to 80 folks listed health and safety as their top issues.

From the testimony at Tuesday’s meeting, it is clear that the Puna community feels uneasy about geothermal. I understand that the Environmental Committee, chaired by Councilwoman Brittany Smart, will be holding hearings regarding environmental issues – specifically health and safety. The hearings will bring clarity to the issues.

What we do know right now is the State Department of Health does not allow open venting, and requires they be alerted when emissions exceed 25 parts per billion. Note that personal H2S monitors sold on the Internet measure in “parts per million.” A billion is a thousand million. The Department of Health’s requirement is a very conservative one.


Hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide coming out of the ground at the Sulfur Banks at Volcano, Hawai‘i

I commend Mayor Kenoi for initiating the Sister City relations with Ormoc City and for supporting the Geothermal Working Group, which was operating under an unfunded mandate. He has taken on the goal of making Hawaii County 100 percent reliant on non-fossil fuels by 2015.

That’s a high bar, but he has the guts to aim high. What’s at stake requires us to have a clear goal, for the benefit of all of us. Mayor Kenoi knows that geothermal will result in a better future for us all.

Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, President of the Keaukaha Community Association, told me, “It is about the process” – and so we need to aloha everyone, no matter what side of the issue they are on. And Kumu Lehua Veincent told me: “What about the rest?” He meant that this is about all of us, not just a few.

We all know that oil prices have doubled every 5.5 years recently. If it continues to follow that pattern, we do not have much time to act. We must all work together to find the best solution for all of us.

I visited both Iceland and the Philippines, and in both places open venting is allowed at their geothermal plants in certain circumstances. I learned that Hawai‘i’s air quality standards are very high compared to in those countries.

In August 2000, the EPA issued a report regarding the geothermal well blowout that occurred at Puna Geothermal Venture in June 1991. Read “Report on the Review of Hawaii County Emergency Operations Plan and Puna Geothermal Venture Emergency Response Plan” here. The Environmental Committee can use these findings and recommendations as a starting point.

From that report:

Blowout of well KS-8 June 12, 1991

Cause and Duration

“The blowout caused an unabated release of steam for a period of 31 hours before PGV succeeded in closing in the well. The report finds that the blowout occurred because of inadequacies in PGV’s drilling plan and procedures and not as a result of unusual or unmanageable subsurface geologic or hydrologic conditions.”

“Not only did PGV fail to modify its drilling program following the KS-7 blowout, but they also failed to heed numerous “red flags” (warning signals) in the five days preceding the KS-8 blowout, which included a continuous 1-inch flow of drilling mud out of the wellbore, gains in mud volume while pulling stands, and gas entries while circulating mud bottom up, in addition to lost circulation, that had occurred earlier below the shoe of the 13-3/8-inch casing.”

“PGV personnel took appropriate steps to control the well following the kick. However, there were certain inadequacies in PGV’s drilling operations and blowout prevention equipment. The mud cooler being used was inefficient. Monitoring equipment was not strategically placed. A sufficient supply of cold water was not available to pump into the wellbore to properly kill the well in the event of a blowout. The choke line was not of sufficient diameter to handle the volume of fluid that had to be vented, and there was no silencer on the end of the choke manifold line to reduce noise.”

It’s good that the County Council will be addressing all those issues. We all need to have a common frame of reference regarding safety. Everyone wants to do the right thing.


Icelandics Treat Hydrogen Sulfide Gas With Respect

When I went to Iceland, I sat in the Blue Lagoon for several hours.

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The Blue Lagoon (Icelandic: “Bláa lónið”) geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The steamy waters are part of a lava formation….

The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C (98–102 °F). The Blue Lagoon also operates a Research and Development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the mineral-rich water.

The lagoon is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every 2 days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal hot water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in. (from Wikipedia)

The geothermal plant was close by with steam (H2S?) plumes going into the air. Iceland and the Phillipines allows some direct venting into the atmosphere Hawaii does not.

To understand the distance, here’s a comparison. If the Blue Lagoon was KTA Pu‘ainako, the geothermal plant was approximately as far away as the Prince Kuhio Shopping Center, maybe a quarter of a mile.

Iceland has one of the highest voting rates in the world – in the high 80 percent. They are also some of the most educated people in the world.

The water was from the geothermal plant and tasted a little salty. It flowed through continuously and I could open my eyes underwater. It smelled slightly of sulfur.

Farmers understand that “the dose makes the poison.” For instance, the instructions for disposing of any chemical container, even the most toxic, is to “triple rinse” before disposal. The idea is that if some unsuspecting person grabs the container and uses it for drinking water, it won’t hurt them.

It seemed to me that the emissions were being diluted with the air much like triple rinsing.