LPG Spotlight: Hawaii Gas

November 6, 2023 By    
Hawaii Gas is the only franchised gas utility in the state of Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Hawaii Gas)

Hawaii Gas is the only franchised gas utility in the state of Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of Hawaii Gas)

Seventeen minutes: That’s all it took for flames to tear through the West Maui town of Lahaina on Aug. 8, reports Hawaii Gov. Josh Green.

Nearly three months later, Hawaii Gas, a provider of propane throughout the Hawaiian Islands, still can’t enter this part of its service area.

The fast-moving wildfire, intensified by 80 mph winds from a hurricane to the south, leveled Lahaina and killed at least 99 people that day.

“While Lahaina was destroyed by the fire, and service there can only be provided as the town is rebuilt, the gas system on the rest of Maui is intact and operational,” reports Mustafa Demirbag, executive director of operations for Hawaii Gas, who is currently based on Maui.

Hawaii Gas couldn’t enter the impacted area in Lahaina during the initial search and recovery phase, and it is still unable to enter until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) removes household hazards like propane tanks.

“None of the tanks/cylinders have been removed,” says Demirbag in late October.

Residents who escaped the town report that gas stations and propane tanks exploded in the fire.

As of late August, Hawaii Gas was not aware of any of its propane tanks exploding during the wildfire. It points to how tanks are designed to vent when the internal pressure reaches a maximum level to prevent failure of the steel wall. At the time, however, the company couldn’t provide information on possible damages, in part due to limited access to the area.

In the days during and right after the fire, gas lines in some areas like Lahaina were damaged or destroyed, reports Demirbag.

“We had to shut down our holder tank,” he says.

Lahaina residents were displaced to other areas of Maui and drew down gas supplies faster than normal in those areas, requiring Hawaii Gas to resupply them more frequently. Travel for the Hawaii Gas team became difficult due to emergency services and equipment on the road, and its employees had to take precautions to avoid breathing smoke.

The company immediately suspended billing to those impacted in the West Maui area and is working with partners to support those who still need gas service.

“Outside of Lahaina, the wildfire affected only a very small number of our customer base, and we are still able to service our customers on other parts of Maui,” says Demirbag.

That gas service has proven crucial during the recovery process.

In the immediate aftermath, Hawaii Gas provided propane supplies for generators at many of the stations set up by first responders, reports Demirbag. The company also supplied propane to the commercial kitchen at the University of Hawaii in Maui to cook meals for displaced residents.

Back in Lahaina, a long recovery is underway. Once the EPA removes household hazards, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can begin to remove ash and debris.

The mayor of Lahaina says the process could take up to two years.

“It’s going to be a long recovery, and we are committed to working with the community for as long as it takes to rebuild Lahaina,” says Demirbag.

Company profile: Hawaii Gas

Year founded // 1904
Headquarters // Honolulu, Hawaii
Owner // Hawaii Gas is an investment portfolio company wholly owned by investment funds managed by Argo Infrastructure LP.
Bobtails // 60
Employees // 370
Products // Propane and natural gas

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