Horizontal Well Presentation

SUBHEAD: This well may be difficult to maintain and spur development. Why not just add PV to existing wells?

By Juan Wilson on 19 September 2013 for Island Breath -

Image above: David Craddick (center), DOW manager, makes presentation on Kahili Ridge Horizontal Water Well. Note Jan TenBruggencate, board member of KIUC, in foreground. Photo by Juan Wilson.

[Author's note: This article is from a letter I emailed today to David Craddick, manager at the Department of Water, concerning the proposed Kahili Ridge Horizontal Well.]

Aloha Mr. Craddick,

I attended the DOW (Department of Water) Special Board meeting on September 17th. Thank you for your thoughtful presentation of the project.

Why dig this horizontal well? It's new name tells some of the story "Kahili Well Energy Saving Project." This makes it sound as if it's all about saving energy.

Obviously a gravity fed water system requires less energy to deliver water than one requiring pumping water against gravity. The DOW points out that a large part of its present cost is based on the price to pump water.

Your equation then is that saving energy is saving money. And that saving money translates into smaller water bills for your customers. This you have determined is a win-win situation for Kauai.

I beg to differ. One possibility is that cheaper water might just lead to greater consumption. If water is cheap enough people will grow grass in the desert. Just look at Phoenix. Cheaper water is not really the issue.

Adequate reliable water is the real issue. You asked the question yourself at the meeting. "What will we do when the fuel barge stops coming?"

A question I asked your project engineer afterwards was why he thought that future energy costs for DOW would be going up int the future - and why that justified the horizontal well project. I was answered with silence. I went on to add that energy prices would likely be dropping, as large scale PV (Photo-Voltaic) sourced electricity will eclipse diesel for power generation.

My question to you is: Why doesn't the DOW spend the cost of the horizontal well on it's own solar PV arrays at each existing wellhead site? How far would $60 million in PV go towards lowering your pumping costs?

As you know, solar panels are at an all time low price and are conservatively estimated to be functional for more than 30 years.

Wouldn't PV well pumping greatly add to the affordability, reliability and sustainability of DOW systems?

I was particularly impressed with your concern about relying in the future on a single source of water for our Puna Moku community. Your point concerning the horizontal well's vulnerability to acts of terrorism or sabotage is an important consideration.

It may be unlikely that an intentional destruction of the well would take place. However, if such an event would ever occur the results could be an ongoing disaster for Kauai.

You pointed out that we would need to keep our current vertical well technology intact and operational as a backup for any such a scenario.

I would add that an intentional sabotaging of the horizontal well is not as likely as one caused by a natural disaster or one caused by technical failure or human error.

A wellhead failure at the horizontal well (backed up with 1,200 psi on a 24" pipe) would be a logistical nightmare. Everyone remembers the failure of the blowout preventer (BOP) at the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf's fishing industry and ecosystem were profoundly damaged by the long delay before the well was recapped.

I'm not suggesting that poisonous crude oil would fill the Puna Moku if the Kahili Ridge wellhead failed, but to assume a significant failure of the well technology could never happen is an unsafe bet.

There is major difference that I see in the safety concerns between our current vertical well technology and the horizontal well proposed. The catastrophic failure of a single vertical well (among many) not only does not cause a total loss of water delivery, and does not lead to cascading and escalating engineering problems.

A single vertical well failure would merely render that well inoperable. That failure could be the result of a hand-grenade or a casing collapse. In either case, no massive loss of water resources would ensue and no major engineering feat would be required at that wellhead to make it safe again.

Unanticipated construction and engineering failures occur all the time. Who was the engineer who thought a good place for the backup generators at Fukushima was a basement near the seawall? Now the entire Pacific Ocean is threatened with a continuous flow of radioactive pollutants for generations to come.

Most major infrastructure programs are designed to last more than a generation. You have said the proposed Kahili Well is one of those. I would argue that 25, 50 or 100 years from now, our ability to deal with engineering emergencies will be degraded here on Kauai.

As you have probably come to realize, the availability of heavy transport, hydraulic equipment, helicopters, telecommunications, experienced engineers etc, may all be compromised or unavailable on Kauai 50 years from now.
Let me ask you how a few scenarios might play out at the Kahili Horizontal Well. I'm sure you have considered at least a few of them over the short term.

But how, in 50 years time, would the DOW deal with a catastrophic wellhead or BOP failure in the context of the following?
  1. Aging or damaged hardware
  2. Unavailability of equipment or expertise
  3. Site erosion and natural overgrowth
  4. Major landslide
  5. Earthquake
Techno-optimism is rampant in our society. We think we'll populate the stars, but the fact is NASA hasn't been back to the Moon in 40 years and couldn't go if they wanted too. America even abandoned the near space Shuttle program and cannot reach the International Space Station without hitching a ride. Who's kidding who about our technical prowess?

What would happen to Kauai's aquifer if in a generation or two the 24" diameter Kahili Ridge horizontal well head failed and could not be repaired? Is that a contingency the DOW has evaluated?

I grew up on Long Island in the 1950's-60s. I saw my county grow from place of potato, duck and horse farms, with scattered estates, to a place of sprawling contiguous suburbs dotted with shopping plazas and malls. I won't detail the horrors.

But I will say, growing there and in my profession I have heard every play in the book that this or that project was "for our own good". The project was touted to reduce traffic, increase business, add to convenience or just to help reduce the cost to the existing community. Bullshit! It was always for the moneymakers.

You spoke at the 9/17 meeting of abandoning your existing vertical wells in lieu the the new 24" horizontal well. Later you indicated that keeping the vertical wells operational would be needed as a backup to the Kahili well. It's hard to believe that either the DOW or Grove Farms would want such a valuable resource to go unused.

If Grove Farms bean-counters had their way, the land in Puna Moku would look much like Mililani, Oahu. The big corporate land owners on Kauai share one dream - maximizing profit - which means maximizing suburban sprawl density. It is short termed thinking, but that's what corporations do - for them five years is an eternity.

If their is more usable water capacity added to Kauai it means there will be more development and more population. As you probably know, "growing" our way to prosperity is no longer the solution to future human welfare.

Planning on a greater use of water for a larger population is more than misguided.

Climate scientists predict that rising temperatures will mean less rain for Kauai. Our grandchildren will fell the impact of Global Warming here on Kauai.

It's already happening. In the last 20 years we have seen a 20% drop off in rainfall on Waialeale, Kauai's aquifer is being replenished at a lower rate than in the past. For all intents and purposes, that diminishment may increase and continue indefinitely while our shorelines will be eroded by a rising ocean.

Encouraging "no growth" in population and "water conservation" seems a duty of DOW. Moreover, adopting the permaculture philosophy of slowing water movement across the landscape is vital.

If you abandon the horizontal well,  it won't be like you won't have anything to do. There are solar panels to erect, and when that's done there is reforestation of hillsides, the restoration fishponds, rice paddies and taro loi that could be added to your agenda.

There's plenty of good to do. 


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