Pentagon Agrees to Close U.S. Navy's Pearl Harbor Fuel Storage Site

Pentagon officials tour the Red Hill site, December 2021 (USN)

Published Mar 7, 2022 8:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Pentagon has made the decision to defuel and permanently close the U.S. Navy's Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage facility in Hawaii. The order follows after a fuel spill into a water supply well, which led to calls for the site's closure from the Hawaiian congressional delegation and the Hawaii Department of Health. 

In a statement, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that the Navy will come up with a plan for defueling Red Hill by May 31. The objective is to take any needed preparatory steps and complete the task within 12 months. 

"Then we will move to permanently close the Red Hill facility, including conducting any and all necessary environmental remediation around the facility," Austin said. "This is the right thing to do."

Instead of centralizing its fuel storage at one well-known location near Pearl Harbor, Pacific Fleet will now spread its fuel supplies across the theater, in keeping with the Navy's new doctrine of distributed maritime operations. This will align the force's energy supply chain with the reality of its far-flung and dispersed operations, and will make it less vulnerable to modern threats, the Pentagon said. 

"Centrally-located bulk fuel storage of this magnitude likely made sense in 1943, when Red Hill was built. And Red Hill has served our armed forces well for many decades. But it makes a lot less sense now," Austin said. 

He also extended a pledge to help the thousands of Hawaii-based servicemembers who were affected by water well contamination, commiting to provide them with the best possible health care and help achieve a "return to normal" for those who were displaced from their homes. 

“This is great news for the people of Hawaii,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement. “Our national defense begins with the health and safety of our people, and there are better solutions for strategic fueling today than there were when the Red Hill storage facility was built.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) - who has criticized the Navy for its persistent opposition to closing the site - added that his office would continue to "hold DoD's feet to the fire" to ensure that the Pentagon follows through. 

The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is a unique asset for Navy operations in the Pacific. Between 1940 and 1943, miners carved 20 giant tanks out of a solid basalt ridge outside Honolulu, then connected them by pipeline to the piers at Pearl Harbor. It is among the largest facilities of its kind, containing 250 million gallons of fuel needed to power the Navy's westward reach. The site's elevation provides gravity-assisted flow, and its underground location was designed to be hard to hit with the weapons available at the time.