On July 31, 2019, an attorney for Pele Defense Fund (PDF), sent a letter to Suzanne Case, Chairperson of Hawai`i's Board of Land and Natural Resources, demanding that an environmental assessment must be prepared for Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) pursuant to Hawai`i Revised Statutes (HRS) Chapter 343 (Hawai`i’s Environmental Policy Act, known as HEPA).  

PGV owns and operates a geothermal energy facility at Kapoho in the Puna District of the County of Hawai`i.  Hawai`i Geothermal Resource Mining Lease No. R-2 (Lease R-2) was issued by the Hawai`i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to Kapoho Land Partnership (owner of the land where PGV’s facility is located and PGV's landlord) pursuant to HRS Chapter 182 titled Reservation and Disposition of Government Mineral Rights.  Exercising those rights assigned to PGV by its landlord Kapoho,  PGV has drilled deep wells from time to time, as authorized by DLNR drilling permits, attempting to locate and tap underground heat, stream and brine as a geothermal energy resource and for the re-injection of spent fluids.  

 


June 2018   PGV stuck between lava river, fissures   (Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

In May of 2018 Kilauea Volcano began to erupt in its lower east rift zone causing widespread destruction, damage, creation of new land and shoreline accretion, thereby substantially changing the environment of the affected area, rendering previously issued permits, leases, reports and regulatory documents irrelevant, inapplicable or less than complete in view of circumstances after the eruption ended.  PGV’s site and plant were sufficiently exposed to eruption hazards that PGV was required to cease operations and close its existing wells.  PGV has acted to resume geothermal operations, including applications for drilling permits from DLNR.

 


 

 

In 1987, pursuant to HRS Chapter 343, PGV’s predecessor, Thermal Power, prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding the geothermal project that it soon afterwards sold to PGV, identifying effects on the environment, community, and social and economic impacts, and proposed measures that would minimize adverse effects; now, thirty years later, substantially changed conditions require further environmental review.  Hawai`i Administrative Rules § 11-200-26 provides "[i]f there is any change in any of [EIS] characteristics which may have a significant effect, the original statement that was changed shall no longer be valid because an essentially different action would be under consideration and a supplemental statement shall be prepared and reviewed as provided by this chapter".  Also, HRS § 343-5 provides that “an environmental assessment shall be required for actions that: (1) [p]ropose the use of state or county lands ...” (among other things).  PGV's applications for state drilling permits propose the use of state land, defined by HRS § 171-1 as including subsurface mineral resources connected with land (i.e., the subject of Lease R-2).  

The demand letter from PDF to DLNR concludes, "it is evident that a Chapter 343 environmental assessment is necessary both as a matter of common sense based on substantially changed conditions, as contemplated by HAR § 11-200-26, and in the course of ordinary administration of state land, pursuant to HRS § 343-5".