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Hawaii Fuel Tanks Under Fire Over Corrosion

Friday, September 28, 2018

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Calls to shut down the United States’ largest underground fuel storage facility, in Hawaii, are growing after newly revealed destructive testing results showed that in some cases, predictions based on nondestructive evaluation underestimated the extent to which the steel walls of the massive steel tanks have corroded.

Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, constructed on the island of Oahu during WWII, has been the site of a number of releases over the years and came under intense scrutiny in January 2014 when a 27,000-gallon release of jet fuel—later determined to have been caused by poor-quality work on the cleaning and repair of the facility’s Tank 5—took place.

Red Hill

Red Hill includes 20 storage tanks with a total capacity of 250 million gallons, and three pipelines that move fuel to and from Pearl Harbor and Hickman Air Field.

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency placed the facility, with 20 USTs totaling 250 million gallons of storage capacity, under an Administrative Order of Consent, requiring the Navy to perform testing and evaluation on the metal tanks, to look into upgrades to the tanks, and to evaluate the risk and vulnerability of the site.

Destructive Testing Results

As part of the AOC, the Navy removed metal coupons from Tank 14 in June, performing a visual evaluation of the state of the steel tank liners in order to compare their measured wall thickness with projections estimated via nondestructive evaluation. The results, presented at a Honolulu Board of Water Supply earlier this week and posted online by the Sierra Club of Hawaii, which has campaigned for the tanks’ replacement or removal, show that in some cases, corrosion has eaten away at the steel liners at a higher rate than predicted.

According to the BWS presentation, a coupon removed from the tank’s expansion ring had an apparent remaining thickness of 0.118 inches, compared with the predicted thickness of 0.15 to 0.157 inches estimated by NDE. A coupon taken from the fuel barrel showed an apparent remaining thickness of 0.079 inches, considerably thinner than the NDE-predicted thickness of 0.135 to 0.187 inches. A remaining thickness of 0.079 inches means that the thickness of the steel in that spot has been reduced by more than two-thirds.

Metal coupon
Honolulu Board of Water Supply

A coupon from the barrel of Tank 14 had an apparent remaining thickness of just 0.079 inches, less than one third of its original thickness, and  showed considerable backside corrosion. 

In another case, though, a coupon from the lower dome—predicted to show a thickness of at least 0.2 inches—had an apparent remaining thickness of 0.25 inches, the full original thickness of the shell.

The report notes that the coupons revealed the presence of considerable corrosion on the backside of the shell, raising the risk of pitting that could perforate the shell completely and lead to fuel leaks. Some coupons, the report says, show evidence of what could be hydrocarbon staining on the backside, possibly indicating seepage that has already taken place.

Epoxy Lining Proposal

The Navy’s most recently articulated “Tank Upgrade Alternative” plan is to continue with maintenance according to best practices, propose a pilot for the application of an interior epoxy lining for one tank to determine the feasibility of such a system, and fund an upgrade to the facility’s leak-detection system.

Red Hill tank interior
U.S. Navy

Each tank is about 250 feet tall and has a capacity of approximately 12.5 million gallons.

The Navy notes that the epoxy lining technique is unproven; epoxy coatings for fuel storage tanks are relatively novel. A 20-year inspection of an epoxy lining in a fuel storage tank at a refining company, featured in the spring 2018 issue of PaintSquare Press, showed no signs of failure, and that system was approved for another 10 years of service before it will be tested again. It was one of the earliest examples of the use of an epoxy system for a fuel tank interior.

Critics of the facility have held that retrofitting a secondary containment system is the best way to ensure no release of fuel into the ground around the tanks. The Navy said earlier this year that even the least expensive method of outfitting the tanks with secondary shells would cost between $500 million and $2 billion.

About the Facility

Red Hill was constructed between 1940 and 1943, with 20 vertically oriented steel-lined concrete tanks, each 250 feet tall, built into the side of a volcanic ridge near Honolulu. A set of pipelines 2.5 miles long conveys fuel to and from the naval base at Pearl Harbor and nearby Hickam Air Field.

For decades, the existence of the facility was classified, and in 1995 the site was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. 

Fuel leaks of one kind or another have reportedly been evident since as far back as 1947 at the site, and in 1998 a report found signs of petroleum staining in the rock beneath 19 of the 20 tanks.

The 2014 release was the largest single in the facility’s history. An investigation found that that leak occurred as the tank was being refilled after routine maintenance and repair work, and was brought about due to subpar work and poor quality control. Workers initially ignored alarms indicating a release because they believed the tank was newly repaired and not likely to be leaking, assuming instead that the leak-detection system was faulty. 


Tagged categories: Epoxy; Linings; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Quality Control; Tanks

Comment from Warren Brand, (9/28/2018, 8:32 AM)

Anyone know how I might contact the decision-makers?

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/28/2018, 8:50 AM)

SONGS had epoxy lined tanks for their backup generators for quite a long time, apparently without issue.

Comment from Warren Brand, (9/28/2018, 8:53 AM)

The quote here that, "The Navy notes that the epoxy lining technique is unproven; epoxy coatings for fuel storage tanks are relatively novel." Is patently incorrect. Further, the article which indicates that the 1998 lining of a fuel storage tank was, "one of the earliest examples of the use of an epoxy system for a fuel tank interior," is ridiculous. I personally was lining the interior of underground fuel storage tanks as far back as the 80s. And our company had been lining UST interiors since the early 70s. Further, I personally inspected a UST that our company had lined which had been in service in excess of 22 years. The coating was pristine and, further, the tank wall had corroded complete away in one section, exposing a roughly 6" round "opening" in the steel tank wall. The tank had never leaked, as the nominal thickness of the interior coating system was 125 mils. Further, I worked with the Illinois Fire Marshall's Office in interpreting the US EPA UST regulations of the late 80s. Does anyone know how to contact the decision-makers, because their assumptions and data are seriously flawed.

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