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U.S. Navy Reports 14,000-Gallon Fuel Leak at Red Hill Tank Farm

Red Hill fuel tunnel
Fuel pipeline tunnel at Red Hill (U.S. Navy file image)

Published Nov 22, 2021 8:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

For years, the U.S. Navy has struggled to convince residents near its strategic Red Hill fuel storage facility in Pearl Harbor that the WWII-era site is environmentally safe. That cause suffered a setback on Sunday when the Navy announced that 14,000 gallons of fuel-water mixture had spilled from an ongoing leak in a drain line at the site. 

The Red Hill site is an underground fuel storage facility near Honolulu with 20 steel-lined underground storage tanks. It has a total capacity of about 250 million gallons, and it is connected by gravity-fed pipeline to fuel piers at Pearl Harbor. The gravity discharge lines provide the Navy with a reliable, high-speed method of bunkering its warships, even without power. 

The tank farm was carved out of a volcanic ridge near Honolulu in order to protect Pacific Fleet's fuel supply from Japanese attack, and it was commissioned in 1943. The secure, buried facility remains a strategic element of U.S. power projection in the Pacific. However, it is locally controversial due to perceived environmental and health risks. It released 27,000 gallons of jet fuel during a maintenance period in 2014, raising concerns about groundwater contamination in Oahu's main aquifer, which sits about 100 feet below the fuel tanks. 

In the latest incident reported Sunday, about 14,000 gallons of a fuel-water mixture escaped from a drain line used for Red Hill's fire suppression system. The leak occured about one quarter of a mile downhill from the tank farm, inside of a tunnel, and it did not 

The Navy said that the line is not connected to the main fuel storage tanks, and the spill has slowed down "considerably and continues to be captured." The fuel-water mixture is being transferred to a storage tank above ground.

State and local officials have been concerned about risks from the aging facility for years, and it has been a longstanding source of friction in their relationship with the naval base. On October 26, Hawaii's Department of Public Health fined the Navy $325,000 for alleged pipeline safety violations at Red Hill, including alleged failures to perform line tightness tests and run cathodic protection systems. The fine was not directly related to the latest leak.