There is no shortage of information, misinformation and fears raised about hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Some of the bad press around “fracking” has been well-earned. But the negatives surrounding its use by the oil and gas industries to improve the production of wells is threatening progress in places where there should be no anxiety about fracking.

Hawaii is one such place, judging by recent legislation attempting to preemptively exclude fracking from the urgent conversation about geothermal that is currently underway. As a scientist who works and lectures on geothermal issues and projects, I offer the following observations to help correct serious misconceptions and facilitate a more informed conversation about how to move Hawaii forward with regard to tapping its incredible geothermal resources.

  1. Fracking is normally carried out after the completion of drilling. Fracking is NOT normally used/applied in conventional geothermal, which is the case for geothermal power development in New Zealand, Hawaii and another 22 countries around the world.

  2. I can say with confidence that there is not going to be any fracking in future geothermal development in Hawaii.

  3. Legislation such as Bill 129 that purport to be inspired by what other regions have done to protect against fracking should be based on facts. The UK, New Zealand and Canada cited in Bill 129 have NOT banned fracking. The UK did have a moratorium which was lifted in December 2012.

  4. Water is used in great quantities while drilling new wells. But it is a temporary phase of two to three months and limiting its use will only inhibit efficient start-up operations.

  5. Some limited use of chemicals for cleaning, improvement of permeability and prevention of mineral deposits inside the well may be necessary. This does not constitute fracking and may be necessary for the operation of the plant.
  6. It is not prudent to give an administrator without the appropriate science and geothermal engineering expertise the power to shut down operations as this bill does. In New Zealand, the drilling inspector is someone trained to perform that function and has the necessary qualifications for it. Having an administrator without the relevant experience wielding that kind of power is not conducive to good decision-making or good business. It is therefore also not good for the community.

  7. It is true that some drilling equipment can be used for fracking. However, an administrator who does not have a full understanding of geothermal operations may be empowered by this bill to shut down the site because he or she sees equipment that can be used for fracking even if there is no fracking taking place or being planned.

  8. All the Hawaii islands are volcanic, so there are no likely hydrocarbons (Oil, Gas, Coal etc.) to be accessed using fracking. These are the industries that use fracking; not geothermal.

In my opinion, legislation like Bill 129, while well-intentioned, has been guided by bad information and an inadequate understanding of the industry. It will not serve Hawaii well and may seriously retard the development of a renewable energy source that could replace imported oil as the firm power base for the state’s energy portfolio. That need is urgent and it would be a shame to see Hawaii’s path to energy independence obstructed by this kind of ill-conceived legislation.

About the author: Sadiq Zarrouk is a Geothermal Reservoir Engineer and a Member of the Board of Directors of the International Geothermal Association. He has 17 years of experience in the field and has studied Hawaii’s geothermal resources. He has published extensively in refereed journals and conference proceedings and run several advanced geothermal professional training courses. He consults for clients globally, including Innovations Development Group in Hawaii, Contact Energy in New Zealand, Arrow Energy in Australia and more.

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