HONOLULU — The U.S. military on Wednesday said it now expects to remove fuel from a leaky Hawaii fuel tank farm in July 2024, five months earlier than its initial plan.
Critics have lambasted the U.S. Department of Defense's original timeline to remove the fuel from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility by December 2024, saying the tanks posed a threat to Oahu's water supply and needed to be drained sooner.
The state Department of Health ordered the fuel removed after jet fuel from the facility poured into a drinking water well in November and poisoned thousands of people in and around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The health department, which regulates underground fuel storage tanks in Hawaii, said it was reviewing the new plan.
“We are focused on ensuring that defueling takes place as quickly and safely as possible,” Kathleen Ho, the state’s deputy director of environmental health, said in a statement. “There is a continued threat to our aquifer and residents every day that fuel remains in the Red Hill tanks."
The military said in a news release that it moved up the projected completion date after determining some actions could be conducted in parallel. It also shrunk the actual defueling time from eight months to five. It said was committed to defuel Red Hill “safely while consolidating and accelerating work at every opportunity.”
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin must quickly name a commander to a joint task force responsible for defueling the tanks.
“Shutting down Red Hill cannot be delayed. While the updated plan to close the facility sooner is a step in the right direction, DOD must make it a priority to move fast and permanently shut down Red Hill as quickly as possible," Schatz said in a statement.
The tanks can hold 250 million gallons (1.1 billion liters) of fuel, and they are at less than half capacity right now. Officials said that 13 of the 20 tanks have fuel in them, two are permanently closed and five are being repaired.