All eyes on Navy as first phase of massive Red Hill defueling effort kicks off

Environmental watchdogs are hoping another disaster doesn’t happen.
Published: Oct. 25, 2022 at 5:37 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 25, 2022 at 6:32 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time in nearly a year, the military has drained fuel from the Red Hill pipelines to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Environmental watchdogs are hoping another disaster doesn’t happen.

New video from U.S. Pacific Command showed the massive above-ground tanks at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, which can hold more than 5 million gallons of fuel, along with military members working inside the Red Hill tunnels.

It was an important first day of what’s called “unpacking” the pipelines at Red Hill.

The task force in charge of defueling the Red Hill tanks is draining the fuel mostly using gravity. The military says about 93,000 gallons of aviation fuel was drained from one of three pipelines Tuesday and will be stored on base.

The EPA is overseeing the process with the state Health Department.

It’s the first time fuel has been drained from Red Hill since last year’s fuel spill on Nov. 20.

“The operation has been very safe,” said Pete Reich, inspector of the EPA Region 9 Oil Program.

Reich says they walked through some of the tunnels and saw the improvements to protect the groundwater aquifer. The three pipelines are almost three miles long and have a total of 1 million gallons of fuel.

Environmental watchdogs say they are worried about another disaster as more than 100 million gallons of fuel in the Red Hill tanks sit above Oahu’s aquifer.

“I’m scared actually,” said Melodie Aduja, Environmental Caucus chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. “The Nov. 20 spill was not an intentional act. It was an unintentional accident and we lost 20,000 gallon in 34 hours.”

“We are just praying that all goes well,” added Wayne Tanaka, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii.

“There’s over 1 million gallons of fuel that we need to unpack from these lines.

“Last year, it was revealed that in September during a fuel movement, they detected pressure surges in their pipelines, the same pipelines that they are unpacking today.”

On Monday, Navy engineers said the valves are not leaking and they’re confident they can hold up during the unpacking process which could take about 6 days.

The EPA described the mood on this first day of unpacking.

“The mood is professional and directed to get this work done,” Reich said.

“Everyone understands how important it is for the Navy, the people of Hawaii, for the community at large so the effort and attitude is very professional and enthusiastic that this work has finally begun.”