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EPA finds Puna Geothermal Venture violated chemical safety rules

Release Date: 01/12/2016
Contact Information: Dean Higuchi, 808-541-2711, higuchi.dean@epa.gov

(01/12/16) HONOLULU – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a settlement with Puna Geothermal Venture for Clean Air Act chemical safety violations at its geothermal energy plant in the Puna area of the Island of Hawaii. After an EPA inspection, the facility has now complied with the rules designed to minimize accidental chemical releases. The company has also agreed to pay a civil penalty of $76,500.

“The goal of EPA’s inspections is to protect the health and safety of the workers at the plant and the residents in the community,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Our continued oversight will help ensure that it operates in a safe manner by complying with federal requirements.”

EPA conducted a chemical facility inspection in August 2013 and found that PGV had failed to take necessary steps to prevent accidental releases of hydrogen sulfide. Specifically, the company had not tested and inspected its equipment with the frequency consistent with manufacturers’ recommendations, good engineering practices, and prior operating experience.

The inspectors also found that with respect to PGV’s storage, use and handling of pentane, a flammable substance used as a working fluid in the facility’s electricity producing turbines, PGV failed to:

    Conduct periodic compliance audits of its accident prevention program and document that identified deficiencies have been corrected.
    Implement adequate written operating procedures that provide clear instructions for safely conducting activities.
    Ensure that the frequency of inspections and tests of equipment is consistent with manufacturers’ recommendations, good engineering practices, and prior operating experience.
    Analyze and report on a worst-case release scenario and estimate the population that would be affected by an accidental release of pentane.

Today’s penalty action is taken under the federal Clean Air Act’s Section 112(r) General Duty Clause and Risk Management Program requirements.

The General Duty Clause requires facilities to minimize the probability and consequences of accidental chemical releases to better protect workers, communities and the environment. The Risk Management Program requires development of a Risk Management Plan that includes: a hazard assessment detailing the potential effects of an accidental release; a chemical accident prevention program that includes process operation, maintenance, and employee training measures; and an emergency response program that spells out procedures for informing the public and local response agencies should an accident occur.

EPA’s August 2013 inspection was prompted by releases of hydrogen sulfide from the facility to the atmosphere in March and April 2013. The April 2013 release was caused by a pump failure, resulting in a leak of geothermal condensate (composed primarily of water with some contaminants, including hydrogen sulfide) for about 15 minutes before PGV personnel were able to isolate and stop the leakage. The March 2013 release was attributed to the tripping of a breaker in the local power grid, and PGV’s emergency shutdown and hydrogen sulfide abatement systems functioned as designed.

In addition to EPA’s oversight, including the Risk Management Plan updates that PGV must submit, the air permit issued to the facility by the State of Hawaii’s Department of Health requires PGV to submit regular air quality monitoring reports to the state.

For more information on EPA’s Risk Management Program, please visit: http://www2.epa.gov/rmp

For more information on the Clean Air Act’s General Duty clause, please visit: http://www2.epa.gov/rmp/general-duty-clause-fact-sheet
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