Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage 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 have occurred since the 1940s, but since the site remained secret until declassification in the 1990s, the problem did not become public. After a 2001 fuel leak, monitoring showed unsafe hydrocarbon levels in groundwater 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. As a result of the fuel release from Tank 5 at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in January 2014, EPA and the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) brought an enforcement action against the Navy and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to address past fuel releases and minimize the likelihood of future releases. The Administrative Order on Consent also goes beyond the scope of merely complying with the current regulations. The Red Hill Administrative Order on Consent is structured to establish a process for collecting the necessary data and evaluating the optimal technical solutions to address past fuel releases and prevent future releases. The Navy uses an independent EPA-certified laboratory to test the water. Public records confirm that drinking water is safe both on base and off base.
The Red Hill fuel storage facility was constructed from December 1940 through 1943. 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. 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. 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.
Red Hill was designated a historic civil engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1995. General information about the Red Hill Facility is provided online at CNIC.Navy.mil.
In 1998, state health officials first became aware about fuel leakage, and by 2002, tests showed some of the tanks had been leaking. The Navy drilled groundwater monitoring wells and by 2005 regular groundwater monitoring began. In January 2014, as the latest major fuel leak was announced, the history of leaks and their impact on the groundwater became public. U.S. Navy, Defense Logistics Agency, U.S. EPA and Hawaii Department of Health began negotiating an enforceable agreement, also known as an Administrative Order on Consent ("AOC") under Section 7003 of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, that establishes a timeframe for the U.S. Navy and Defense Logistics Agency to evaluate and remediate existing contamination to the extent practicable in the vicinity of the facility, as well as to evaluate and implement measures to prevent future releases.
U.S. Navy and Defense Logistics Agency signed a proposed AOC in the matter of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility on May 27, 2015. Following these signatures, U.S. EPA and the Hawaii Department of Health provided the public with an opportunity to comment on the proposed agreement and held a public meeting (see presentation from June 18 meeting (PDF) (30 pp, 1.4MB)). The public comment period ended on July 20, 2015, and U.S. EPA and Hawaii Department of Health reviewed all comments received. Based on significant public comment, U.S. EPA and Hawaii Department of Health renegotiated and revised the proposed AOC to address public concerns. On September 28, 2015 U.S. EPA and Hawaii Department of Health signed this revised agreement and the AOC became effective. Links to the AOC, work to be performed under the AOC, the documents considered by the agencies while negotiating the agreement, and an index of those documents are available on the EPA website.
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. However, according to EPA, the drinking water is safe for human consumption for both Board of Water Supply customers and military communities. The water for Board of Water Supply customers and military communities is being tested every three months to assure the water is safe. Contamination related to the Facility has never been detected in the Honolulu Board of Water Supply drinking water sources.
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. The monitoring data indicated that some contaminants had been getting into the aquifer directly beneath the tanks.
In January 2014, the Navy announced it was investigating a fuel leak of tank 5, which stores JP-8 aviation fuel. 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". In February 2014, an estimated 27,000 gallons were released or unaccounted for; safety was confirmed, because very low levels of fuel below action levels were found in the groundwater. . The Navy drained the fuel from tank 5, and aired out the fumes for weeks. In early April, the bottom of the tank was inspected. 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". 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.
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 9 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.
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 "...it's the first indication that groundwater contamination could be migrating". In June 2015, the Navy agreed to upgrade the underground fuel storage tanks over the next 20 years as part of a new agreement with the EPA and the Hawaii Department of Health.
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- American Society of Civil Engineers http://www.ascehawaii.org/landmarks.html retrieved 27 August 2010 Archived July 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
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- Catherine Cruz (31 January 2014). "U.S. Navy: Red Hill fuel spill now pegged at 27,000 gallons". KITV News. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
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- Cocke, Sophie (2 June 2014). "Officials: Navy Slow to Address Red Hill's Threat to Drinking Water". Honolulu Civil Beat. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
- Cocke, Sophie (June 12, 2014). "Navy Finds Tiny Holes in Red Hill Tank". Honolulu Civil Beat. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
- Gordon Y.K. Pang (12 December 2014). "Navy Balks at Fuel Tank Advice". The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Monster Worldwide. military.com. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
- Anita Hofschneider (June 1, 2015). "Navy Agrees to Upgrade Red Hill Fuel Storage Tanks". Peer News LLC. Retrieved 3 September 2015.