On June 22, Snopes.com released an article, debunking any connection between drilling activities at the Puna Geothermal Venture and the recent lava flow that has devastated much of the lower Puna region of the Big Island of Hawaii. In its alleged “fact checking”, Snopes referred to my research published in two articles on Exopolitics.org where I discussed the Puna Geothermal Venture and how the activities conducted there led to earthquakes, weakened the underlying geology, and was a contributing factor to the recent massive lava flows .

Since my two articles were published on May 15 and May 27, the lava flow has extended into the Kapoho Bay area destroying over 500 homes, filling in the Bay and is now threatening adjoining areas in lower Puna. The destruction of homes caused by the massive lava flow has rapidly grown and passed a critical Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) threshold.

Kapoho Bay as it was being overrun by the volcanic lava flow

FEMA has moved significant resources into the area to help those that have lost homes, have been forced to move into government funded shelters, and/or seeking financial assistance to cover losses.

A growing number of people have begun questioning whether the disaster was triggered in any way by activities conducted at Puna Geothermal Venture, to the extent that the fact checkers at Snopes decided it was an important issue to address.

Snopes began its article by challenging the claim that a form of fracking (aka hydraulic fracturing) was occurring at the Puna Geothermal Venture as evidenced by the earthquakes occurring there. It boldly asserted that fracking, the injection of highly pressured liquids to fracture subterranean rocks in order to extract oil and gas, was not occurring at Puna Geothermal Venture:

The claims laid out by YourNewsWire and Exopolitics suffer from several factual, scientific, and logical flaws, but chief among them is the fact that fracking — a process utilized by oil companies searching for fossil fuels — does not occur anywhere on Hawaii, as there are no petroleum reserves for which to frack.

To get around this, Exoplanet [Exopolitics] claims that the processes employed at PGV are in essence identical to fracking, because the geothermal plant operates in a fashion that requires re-injecting a liquid into the ground.

Snopes cites Hawaii Electric, which was Puna Geothermal Venture’s (PGV) main customer, to explain the drilling process that was being used:

PGV is a geothermal energy conversion plant bringing steam and hot liquid up through underground wells.  The hot liquid (brine) is not used for electricity at this time.  The steam is directed to a turbine generator that produces electricity.

The exhaust steam from this turbine is used to vaporize (heat) an organic working fluid, which drives a second turbine, generating additional electricity. The condensed steam from the organic fluid heat exchanger is re-injected into the ground through reinjection wells along with the brine.

The main point made here by Snopes is that because highly pressured liquids are re-injected in order to stabilize the underlying geology by maintaining an equilibrium among different elements, that this is very different to fracking, which injects pressurized liquids with the primary purpose of destabilizing or fracturing underlying rocks.

While these appear to be very different goals at a prima facie level, what Snopes failed to point out is that rocks that are hit by pressurized liquids to generate heat, can be easily fractured as a byproduct of the process, resulting in something not too dissimilar to outright fracking.

For this and other reasons, multiple experts have pointed out the similarities between fracking and geothermal energy production, and the dangers posed by both:

The basic premise of fracking tends to be the same across all industries that use it.  In fact, the process is so similar that a new trend is developing whereby geothermal companies are seeking to minimize their up-front costs, including drilling costs, by using wells that have been abandoned by oil and gas companies.  While the abandoned wells may no longer have oil and gas resources, they may be able to generate the hot water and steam required by geothermal plants…Read More at