Navy to Upgrade Aging Pacific Tank Base


HONOLULU--After decades of leaks at its quarter-billion-gallon, World War II-era tank farm underneath Oahu, the U.S. Navy has agreed to a comprehensive upgrade to prevent future releases.

Dozens of releases at the 20-tank Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility near Pearl Harbor were capped in January 2014 by a 27,000-gallon release of jet fuel from the facility's Tank 5.

Red Hill's tanks are the largest of their kind in the world, and Navy sampling after the spill showed a spike in levels of hydrocarbons in soil vapor and groundwater.

So far, officials say, the area's drinking water remains compliant, but the release and its ongoing aftermath sparked an effort by the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address conditions at the 70-year-old facility.

The upshot is a new "historic settlement" with the Navy to upgrade the tanks, state and federal authorities have announced. The settlement is detailed in an Administrative Order on Consent now pending public comment and final approval.

Massive Farm

Built from 1940 to 1943 to supply U.S. military operations in the Pacific, the Red Hill facility consists of the world's largest underground fuel storage tanks. Each is 250 feet tall and 100 feet in diameter, built of steel, encased in about four feet of concrete, and hollowed out of volcanic rock.

Each tank holds 12.5 million to12.7 million gallons, giving the facility a 250 million gallon capacity. Two of the original 20 tanks are no longer in use.

The facility remained classified by the military until the 1990s. In 1995, it was designated a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Leaks and Releases

Despite its size and strength, however, the facility was not immune to aging and deterioration. Over the decades, the tanks have stored a variety of fuels and oil.


The facility, built from 1940 to 1943, supports U.S. military operations throughout the Pacific.

In 1998, fuel stains were discovered in the rock below the tanks. Additional testing found staining beneath 19 of the 20 tanks.

On Dec. 9, 2013, Tank 5 was put back into service and refueled after regular maintenance. One month later, the Navy discovered the jet-fuel release and notified state and federal authorities.

The total amount of hazardous materials released from tanks at the facility over the decades is unknown, the consent order says.

Meanwhile, the Waimalu and Moanalua Aquifers, which are underground sources of drinking water, are located nearby. Together, the aquifers cover nearly 20,000 acres. Several other drinking-water sources are also nearby.

Upgrade Plan

The agreement requires the Navy and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to:

  • Conduct an analysis of the hydrogeology of the area around facility;
  • Study the extent of contamination caused by previous fuel releases;
  • Evaluate potential cleanup methods; and
  • Assess the risk the facility poses to Oahu’s drinking-water resources.

All of the work, detailed in a 22-page Statement of Work, must be completed within two years.

Derek Mawhinney / CC BY-SA 2.5

After the massive facility was declassified, it was declared a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The lower plaque acknowledges construction efforts by "thousands of loyal 'Red Hillers'" on "the far-flung outpost of the Pacific theatre of War" in "pursuit of a gigantic War effort."

In addition, upon the completion of hydrogeological modeling, additional groundwater monitoring wells may be installed between the Red Hill tanks and the local drinking-water wells.

“The Department of Health is committed to taking measures required to prevent the future releases from all underground storage tanks. In order to address the challenges presented at Red Hill, the U.S. Navy, DLA, EPA and DOH have developed this AOC as a framework basis to deal with this complex challenge,” said Keith Kawaoka, DOH’s Deputy Director of Environmental Health.

“The AOC establishes the process to make well-researched, well-planned and cost-effective improvements to protect the groundwater resources beneath and surrounding the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.”

Next Steps

The proposed agreement is now available for a 30-day public comment period; a public meeting will be held June 18 in Honolulu.

For more information and to submit comments, visit EPA's Red Hill site or Hawaii's Red Hill site.

After reviewing public comments, EPA and DOH may sign the order or seek to modify it based on information received during the comment period.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Cleanup; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Government; hazardous materials; North America; Oil and Gas; Program/Project Management; Tanks and vessels; U.S. Navy

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