BWS balks at study that says sizable leak of Red Hill fuel tank wouldn’t harm water supply

The Navy says critics are misreading the research.

BWS balks at study that says sizable leak of Red Hill fuel tank wouldn’t harm water supply
Huge fuel storage tanks at Red Hill have been a community concern for years. (Image: Navy)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Board of Water Supply and environmentalists are protesting a study that suggests a fuel leak in a huge Navy tank farm buried in Red Hill might not harm the island water supply.

But a Navy spokesman said the study does not reflect the opinion of the Navy, which he said is committed to preventing any leakage.

The modeling study of potential leaks was done for a state Senate Task Force studying what to do about the 18-tank bulk fuel storage facility hidden under Red Hill.

The tank farm can hold millions of gallons of jet fuel and diesel ship fuel for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

The Board of Water Supply wants the facility reinforced because of the potential for catastrophic or chronic leaks that could pollute Honolulu’s drinking water supply, stored in underground aquifers — one of the largest not far away.

A leak of 27,000 gallons in 2014 raised alarms about the potential for larger leaks and led to an agreement between the Navy, EPA and the state Health Department to develop a plan to protect the water supply.

The research provided to the task force looks at complex scenarios predicting what would happen to leaking fuel under various amounts and conditions. It said a slow chronic leak from the tanks, of about 2,300 gallons per year, or even a sudden discharge over 100,000 gallons, would not make it to the fresh water aquifer below.

In written comments to the task force, the Honolulu Board of water supply said the report “is granting acceptance to allowing fuel releases in our island’s sole source drinking water aquifer. This is absurd and unacceptable.”

The Sierra Club’s Hawaii Director Marti Townsend said the report indicates the Navy is responding “cavalierly” to the threat.

“The Navy takes this tone like it would be no problem to release 120, 000 gallons of fuel into the groundwater and the Sierra Club finds that completely unacceptable,” Townsend said.

But Joint Base Spokesman Charles Anthony said the Navy would consider a leak of any amount unacceptable.

Anthony said the studies were preliminary, not prepared for public release, and are not a reflection of the Navy’s opinion about the future maintenance of the tanks.

A hearing of the State Senate Red Hill Task Force is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday in the state Capitol basement, Room 016.

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