Hawaii Governor Orders The Navy To Shutdown Its WWII-era Fuel Storage Facility At Pearl Harbor After Petroleum Leaks Into Water Supply

Hawaii Governor Orders The Navy To Shutdown Its WWII-era Fuel Storage Facility At Pearl Harbor After Petroleum Leaks Into Water Supply

Written by Abbie Shull/Business Insider
The US Navy announced Monday it has suspended operations at the Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility after petroleum leaked into the Navy Water System used as drinking water for residents and personnel on base. The service is now using above ground storage tanks on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for fueling aircraft, ground vehicles and ships, a spokesperson confirmed to Insider.

On Tuesday, Hawaii’s leaders asked the service to take that action one step further. Hawaii’s governor, alongside the state’s Department of Health, issued an order to the Navy to not only suspend fuel operations at Red Hill but to come up with a plan to drain as much as 250 million gallons of fuel stored in its 20 underground tanks.

“If at some point the tanks have been remediated and corrective action has been taken, they may apply for a permit or ask the permission of the Department of Health” to continue operations at Red Hill, said Kathleen Ho, the deputy director of environmental health at the DOH during a press conference Tuesday.

Although the Navy now says it suspended operations at Red Hill on Nov. 27, the state was not informed of that action until Dec. 7, the governor confirmed to reporters during a press conference on Tuesday.

Military residents at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam first reported feeling ill and smelling gasoline in their water on Nov. 28. The Navy confirmed the presence of petroleum in their water supply on Dec. 3.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro apologized to Hawaii’s military families and said the Navy is “already working extremely hard” to find a solution to the water crisis.

The Navy has said they believe that the source of the contamination is the Red Hill water shaft, just a half a mile from the Red Hill fuel storage facility. However, state leaders said today that no one has been able to confirm how fuel is getting into the water system. The Navy’s water system serves over 93,000 people on Oahu.

The Red Hill bulk fuel storage was built in 1941 and consists of 20 underground steel-lined tanks that can each hold about 12.5 million gallons of fuel. The facility currently stores and dispenses three types of petroleum fuel — marine diesel for ships and two types of jet fuel, JP-5 and JP-8 — according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The facility has had its fair share of problems. In 2014, there was an accidental release of 27,000 gallons of fuel, and earlier this year on May 6 about 1,600 gallons of fuel was released. Then, on Nov. 20, there was a release of 14,000 gallons of fuel into a tunnel less than a mile from the Red Hill water shaft.

The order from the state’s Department of Health could further tensions between the state and the Department of Defense. On Monday, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told reporters he would consider any request from the state but its unclear if the Navy will accommodate every part of the state’s order.

“It’s not an order. It’s a request that’s being made,” Del Toro told reporters Monday. “And we’re taking that very, very seriously and engaging in a series of conversations.”

On Tuesday, the governor emphasized that the state was indeed issuing an order.

“Certainly, the federal government and the Department of Defense can operate separately and differently than the state,” said Ige. “We are acting within the current state law about our requirement to regulate our water sources here in the island, and we are using that authority to issue the order.”