Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility

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Plaques placed by ASCE at the Red Hill Facility
Plaque placed by ASCE at the Red Hill Facility

The Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility is a United States Navy underground fuel storage facility, consisting of 20 large cylindrical concrete tanks embedded in the volcanic rock of Red Hill near Pearl Harbor, completed in 1942/43 and operated continuously since. Dozens of fuel leaks from all but one tank have occurred since the 1940's, but since the site remained secret until declassification in the 1990's, the problem did not become public. After a 2001 fuel leak, monitoring showed unsafe hydrocarbon levels in water below the tanks. Another leak in January 2014 of 27,000 gallons prompted Navy to investigate, Tank 5 was emptied, vented and showed microscopic holes on inspection in April 2014.


The Red Hill fuel storage facility was constructed from December 1940 through 1943.[1] It is located 30 m (100 feet) under a ridge within Honolulu, Hawaii, which is why construction could continue at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It is unique in that 20 vertical cylindrical tanks, each measuring 77 m (250 feet) tall by 30 m (100 feet) in diameter, were hollowed out of volcanic rock, holding more than 250 million gallons of fuel.[1][2] Each reinforced-concrete tank is lined with quarter-inch steel plate, tested during construction for leaks and pre-stressed with high-pressure grouting between it and the surrounding rock wall. The facility is connected by pipes and tunnels to navy piers and a harbor-side pumping station more than 4 kilometres away.[1] Although constructed by a labor force of approximately 3,900 workers, its existence remained classified information in the United States until after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s.[3]

In 1991, fuel for Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf was transferred through Red Hill.[1]

Red Hill was designated a historic civil engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1995.

In 1998, state health officials first became aware about fuel leakage, and by 2002, tests showed that all but one of the tanks had been leaking.[4] The Navy drilled groundwater monitoring wells and by 2005 regular groundwater monitoring began.[4] In January 2014, as the latest and major fuel leak was announced, the past history of leaks and impact on the groundwater became public.

Environmental problems[edit]

According to documents by the Hawaii Department of Health dozens of leaks from Red Hill’s 20 underground fuel storage tanks have occurred since the 1940s and have contaminated groundwater directly beneath the tanks with hydrocarbon levels as high as 25 times what the state considers safe.[4]

A fuel leak occurred in 2001-2002, after which the military had to establish a water monitoring system, the adequacy of which the state health department had questioned at the time.[5] The monitoring data indicated that some contaminants had been getting into the aquifer directly beneath the tanks.[5]

In January 2014, the Navy announced it was investigating a fuel leak of tank 5, which stores JP-8 aviation fuel.[6] Navy said ground and drinking water samples in the vicinity were being tested and the regional engineer for Commander Navy Region Hawaii, responsible for "five potable water systems on the island of Oahu [providing] 18-20 million gallons of water today to over 50,000 active duty military, civilians and family members" reassured that "the water was safe to drink".[6] In February, safety was confirmed, because very low levels of fuel below action levels were found in the groundwater. The amount of fuel released or unaccounted for was then estimated at 27,000 gallons.[5] The Navy drained the fuel from tank 5, and aired out the fumes for weeks.[7] In early April, the bottom of the tank was inspected.[7] On May 23 the regional Navy engineer cautioned "the January drop in the fuel level in Tank 5 may have resulted not from a leak, but from material such as water moving out of the area between the steel tank and its outer concrete lining".[7] In June visual examination of the tank's walls began and per Navy press release on June 12, 2014 inspectors discovered three microscopic holes located in prior welding repairs during vacuum chamber testing, which indicated air could flow through the tank’s wall.[8]

On December 11, 2014, a task force of city (Honolulu Board of Water Supply Manager) and state officials (Deputy Health Director, representative from the state Commission on Water Resource Management) recommended at their final meeting and in their final draft to provide secondary containment and double line the tanks. The EPA region 10 representative cautioned, that secondary containment "may be the best available technology within practical limits [...] but the jury is still out". The Navy objected to the approach without offering an alternative, but will obtain cost estimates.[9]

Two monitoring wells about 300 feet northwest of the facility drilled in fall 2014 to monitor possible movement of leaked fluids found trace amounts of diesel fuel and "parts-per-trillion levels" of 2-methylnaphthalene, where 10 parts per billion allowed by the Health Department. The Board of Water Supply is concerned, because its Halawa well is about a mile away, northwest of the two test wells, and "'s the first indication that groundwater contamination could be migrating".[9]


  1. ^ a b c d "Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility". American Society of Civil Engineers. n.d. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  2. ^ American Society of Civil Engineers retrieved 27 August 2010[dead link]
  3. ^ Greenwood, Cynthia (October 2005). "Pigging the Diesel Pipeline between the Landmark Red Hill Facility and Pearl Harbor". CorrDefense. Department of Defense Corrosion Policy and Oversight Office and NACE International. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Cocke, Sophie (30 January 2014). "Red Hill: EPA May Force New Fuel Leak Detection System for Toxic Spills". Honolulu Civil Beat. Peer News LLC. Retrieved 17 June 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Catherine Cruz (31 January 2014). "U.S. Navy: Red Hill fuel spill now pegged at 27,000 gallons". KITV News. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  6. ^ a b "Navy Investigates Fuel Leak at Underground Storage Facility". US Navy, Region Hawaii Public Affairs. January 17, 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c Cocke, Sophie (2 June 2014). "Officials: Navy Slow to Address Red Hill’s Threat to Drinking Water". Honolulu Civil Beat. Retrieved 17 June 2014. 
  8. ^ Cocke, Sophie (June 12, 2014). "Navy Finds Tiny Holes in Red Hill Tank". Honolulu Civil Beat. Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Gordon Y.K. Pang (12 December 2014). "Navy Balks at Fuel Tank Advice". The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (Monster Worldwide). Retrieved 16 December 2014. 

Coordinates: 21°22′26.55″N 157°53′37.88″W / 21.3740417°N 157.8938556°W / 21.3740417; -157.8938556