Another leak prompts new calls to shut down Navy’s massive Red Hill fuel storage facility

Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 7:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The US Navy is continuing to monitor its massive Red Hill fuel storage facility following a leak of about 1,000 gallons of jet fuel on Thursday night.

In a news release Friday, the Navy said the leak was from a distribution pipeline and that a containment system “properly monitored, detected and collected the fuel release as designed.”

“Our containment system functioned as designed to keep the fuel contained within our facility, with no indication that fuel was released to the environment,” said Capt. Gordie Meyer, commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii.

“We are conducting an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the release and will continue to examine our systems and procedures.”

The WWII-era Red Hill facility sits above the Pearl Harbor aquifer, which supplies drinking water to most of Honolulu.

And the latest leak has rekindled fears of environmentalists.

“We’re very concerned because the tanks are antiquated,” said David Frankel, attorney for the Sierra Club. “They’re leaky and they sit above the sole source aquifer for the island.”

“There’s been spills after spills, contamination events after contamination event, burning open pits and so the Navy has been not a good neighbor,” said Carroll Cox of EnviroWatch Inc.

The state Department of Health’s Environmental Management Division says they were notified of the leak Friday morning.

They were told 700 gallons of fuel was recovered during the cleanup.

They said they don’t know if any reached the aquifer.

“The groundwater aquifer is approximately 100 feet below the tanks so it’ll be a while before the fuel would have reached it,” said Joanna Seto, of the division.

Seto said the storage facility is currently being cleaned by the Navy so it will take some days until state inspectors will be able to get in to do their own investigation.

Leaks at Red Hill have been happening for years and some worry the situation is growing more urgent.

In 2014, there was a release of more than 27,000 gallons of fuel from the facility. Tests of the monitoring wells surrounding the tanks showed a spike in levels of hydrocarbons in soil vapor and groundwater, but test results from the drinking water there confirmed it was still within safe levels.

In October of last year, the Navy proposed adding a new lining inside the tanks or remove them by 2045. That was seven years later than a previous agreement.

The state Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency rejected that plan.

There is currently a contested case against the Navy’s plan for the tanks.

Eventually, Hawaii Department of Health Director Dr. Libby Char will have the final say on whether or not the Navy receives a permit.

The Sierra Club and the city’s Board of Water Supply, who are both pushing for the full removal of the tanks, could appeal to the state Circuit Court.

Frankel said a decision may still take several months.

US Sen. Mazie Hirono said she is also monitoring the situation.

In the wake of the incident, she said Navy leadership pledged to “review the notification process to ensure all appropriate parties are promptly informed” if a fuel spill happens again.

“This incident reaffirms the need for clear and transparent information to be communicated in a timely manner,” she said, in a statement.

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