Navy Practices Fuel Cleanup for Massive Red Hill Project

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spill response exercise Red Hill
Personnel assigned to Navy Region Hawaii, Federal Fire Department Hawaii and Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Pearl Harbor monitor communications from the incident command post during a spill response exercise Sept. 22, 2022. (Christopher D. Blachly/U.S. Navy)

The Navy simulated a spill response exercise Thursday in preparation for draining approximately 1 million gallons of fuel from its Red Hill pipeline system. The Navy hopes to drain the pipes in October under a that still needs to be approved by the state Department of Health.

The major defueling of the facility is not expected to begin until 2024, when the Navy plans to begin draining 104 million gallons from 14 tanks.

The Department of Defense said in a news release that Thursday's exercise was "the culmination of weeks of training, coordination and scaled exercises " that included representatives from DOH, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard.

"Demonstrating that our personnel have the ability to quickly and appropriately respond to a release or spill at Red Hill is crucial in our continued effort to safely and expeditiously defuel the facility, " Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett, commander, Navy Region Hawaii, said in the release. "We remain committed to working closely with our partners in the Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency to protect our community and our aquifer."

The Pentagon announced in March that it would permanently shut down Red Hill after leaks from the fuel facility contaminated the Navy's drinking water system in 2021, sickening residents living in neighborhoods around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. But military officials say defueling the massive, underground tanks likely won't be complete until July 2024.

A third-party assessment completed earlier this year found major deficiencies throughout Red Hill's fuel distribution system that need to be fixed in order to safely defuel the tanks.

The Navy's proposed timeline for defueling the facility has worried environmentalists and officials with the Honolulu Board of Water Supply. They're concerned that additional leaks from the facility could further contaminate the aquifer and southern Oahu's supply of drinking water.

Approximately 250,000 gallons of fuel leaked from Red Hill between 1947 and 2014, according to Navy rec ords. In January 2014 another 27,000 gallons of fuel was released, and approximately 19,000 gallons in 2021. Chronic, undetected fuel leaks from the facility have been estimated at 5,800 gallons a year.

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