A naturalist tour guide, two California environmentalists and two other visitors complained they walked through “noxious drilling effluent” on a hike through a state forest in Wailua this month.
During the Sept. 17 hike by “Blue Hole,” the group contended the discharge from a government water drilling site posed a threat to them and a threat to the environment, contentions denied by an official with the U.S. Geological Survey, which is involved with the work.
One of hikers said she would lodge her concerns with Kaua’i County and state and federal agencies and will recommend the work be halted.
But the fluid the hikers came in contact with was muddy soap generated from the use of a biodegradable soap to carry away rocks chips during the drilling of a research well, according Gordon Tribble, water resources district chief for Hawai’i for the U.S. Geological Survey on O’ahu.
“I don’t they were trapped by noxious chemicals,” said Tribble of the soapy fluid that came out of a well that is about 500 deep. “Its not poisonous. It is designed to be used in there and can be left in the environment.”
He said two federal employees at the well site “work around this stuff on a daily basis.”
The soap also is approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Tribble said.
The project began several months ago on a side road and makai of Blue Hole, Tribble said.
The project is part of a U.S. Geological Survey research well-drilling project aimed at providing better undemanding of the geology and hydrology of the region, better control of water resources and better understanding of the geological history Kaua’i, Tribble said.
The drilling of such wells in the Lihu’e “basin” has been going on for ten years, generating numerous reports, Tribble said.
Similar projects move from one county to another county in Hawai’i every six months to a year, Tribble said. The project is funded with federal and county funds.
In an e-mail to the Garden Island, the hikers said they were “first forced to wade in ankle deep mud around the thundering drill rig while hiking up to the river.”
On their return, the hikers said they ” found their way blocked by waist deep hazardous drill foam,” and “the only way out was to wade through the smelly sludge.”
One of the environmentalists, also a horticulturist, said “I can’t believe that the state would initiate a project to look for ground water when the river is less than a kilometer away, do it in the middle of a popular access road, and then foul the environment with the drilling waste.”
Tribble noted the well was dug for research purposes only, and will not be added on as a water resource for use by Kaua’i Water Department for its customers.
In the e-mail, Bruce Springer, one of the hikers, asked “who authorized such a debacle” and “if water is that important, why not draw it from the adjacent river?”
Water for public consumption is generally taken from underground sources, not from “surface” or river water, county officials have said.
One of the environmentalists, who was not named, also contended the “effluent is contaminating the headlands of Wailua’s water,” and indicated that the “bizarre and blatantly hazardous activity” will be brought to the attention of federal, state and county agencies.
One of the hikers also asked why “aren’t there mitigating efforts to insure that drilling waste is properly contained and disposed of?”
Tribble apologized for the inconvenience the hikers were put through. “From the standpoint of people hiking, the water and soap make a lot of soapy mud. I do apologize for any inconvenience,” Tribble said.
He said he would be willing to make a public apology to Springer and the others at any time.
Tribble acknowledged the work might be incongruous with what the hikers expected on a walk through a tropical jungle, and proposed to put up signs for future work.
Tribble said he has received no other complaints, but U.S. Geological will conduct the well drilling only during the afternoon, when there are fewer hikers in the area.
Tribble said U.S. Geological is “trying to be a good neighbor,” and wants to accommodate the needs of the hikes and the public.
“We are within 50 feet of being finished, and we are down about 500 feet.” Tribble said. The work should be completed in a week or two, he added.
An aquifer report will then be done to improve understanding of the sustainability of the ground water resources in the region, Tribble said.
Reports on the work are available on hi.water.usgs.gov.
Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:email@example.com