Environmental groups in Hawai’i are demanding the U.S. Navy shut down a series of underground fuel tanks near Honolulu after nearly 14,000 gallons of fuel-laced water leaked from the facility. The leak is the latest in a series of accidents dating back to the facility’s construction in the 1940s.
Located on a hillside above Pearl Harbor, the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility provides fuel reserves for the Navy and consists of 20, subterranean fuel tanks each capable of holding 12.5 million gallons of fuel. According to the Sierra Club, those tanks, which are lined with thin steel plates and nearly eight decades old, are buried roughly 100 feet above a groundwater aquifer that serves as the primary drinking water source for 400,000 residents on the island of O’ahu.
“Enough is enough. We’ve lost all faith in the local Navy command,” said Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi director Wayne Tanaka at a news conference.
According to the Navy, the latest leak did not get into the water supply or environment; however, in 2014, a tank leaked 27,000 gallons of jet fuel resulting in an enforceable agreement between the Navy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the state’s Department of Health to monitor and consider upgrades to the facility. The Navy has conducted increased tank testing and groundwater monitoring since the agreement, and in 2019 it submitted proposals for upgrading the tanks within the existing steel-and-concrete structures.
In October, Honolulu Civil Beat reported that the Navy withheld information about an ongoing leak into Pearl Harbor amid hearings related to a pending permit for the facility. In response, all four of the state’s congressional delegation wrote a letter to the Navy citing concerns that the branch was “not appropriately forthcoming” about the leak.
“The Navy’s decision not to publicly acknowledge the [Pearl Harbor] fuel leak and explain what it is doing to prevent future leaks is inconsistent with the commitment past secretaries of the Navy have made to the people of Hawaii to remain transparent on all matters that could affect our environmental resources,” they wrote. “The people of Hawaii deserve better from the Navy.”
In the letter, lawmakers also expressed concerns about a May 6 fuel leak for which the Navy was fined $325,000 by the state’s Department of Health.
The Navy is currently seeking a new five-year permit from the Health Department to operate the Red Hill facility. Both the Sierra Club and Oʻahu’s Board of Water Supply have contested the permit, citing environmental and public health concerns.
“We’re done waiting for the local Navy command to acknowledge the truth,” Tanaka said during last week’s press conference. “They cannot guarantee our safety.”