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Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility - jet fuel leak, USA

Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is located directly above an aquifer that hundreds of thousands of Honolulu residents depend upon for drinking water. The inadequate response to a jet fuel leak in 2014 led to calls for the facility to be closed down.


In January 2014 the U.S. Navy reported to the Hawaii Department of Health that approximately 27,000 gallons (102,000 liters) of jet fuel had leaked from an underground tank at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, which supplies fuel to Pearl Harbor naval base. The leak raised serious concerns over the risk of contamination spreading to important water supplies. The fuel facility consists of 20 tanks and is located just 100 feet (30 meters) above an aquifer that hundreds of thousands of residents living in and around Honolulu depend upon for their fresh drinking water.[1] Officials from the Hawaii Department of Health and Honolulu Board of Water Supply inspected the fuel facility and were able to see the leaking tank, tank 5, first-hand. Documents filed with the health department showed that there had been a previous leak at the Red Hill facility in 2001-2002 with efforts to undertake follow-up monitoring. Reports indicated that even at that time the state had doubts over the adequacy of the monitoring system for preventing fuel from getting into drinking water. Detecting and repairing a leak from underground tanks is far more difficult than with above-ground facilities.[2] In April 2014, as contractors began to inspect the tank and the Navy sought a contractor to ‘define the nature, extent and magnitude of soil and groundwater contamination beneath Tank 5’, Honolulu City Council members joined a chorus of officials urging the Navy to make improvements to prevent what the Honolulu Board of Water Supply warned could be a serious hazard to the water supply if a powerful earthquake in the area were to disturb the ground. The Board of Water Supply and Hawaii Department of Health said that, to date, there were no indications that fuel had contaminated the groundwater aquifer, but elevated levels of hydrocarbons had been detected in soil vapor samples at nearby monitoring points. There were particular concerns over the possible threat to two wells, Halawa Shaft and and Moanalua Shaft, accounting for 25 per cent of the water supply to the area between the residential neighbourhoods of Moana-lua and Hawaii Kai. And a long history of fuel leaks from the Red Hill facility came to light. Water officials said the Navy had reported dozens of fuel releases, adding up to a volume of about 1.2 million gallons (4.45 million liters), but the Health Department had not informed Board of Water Supply officials until the most recent leak was being discussed.[3] A Navy report from 2010 had suggested that fuel contamination might be moving in the direction of country drinking water supplies.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility - jet fuel leak, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Hawaii
Location of conflict:Honolulu
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Ports and airport projects
Military installations
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific commodities:Water
jet fuel
Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Built in 1940-43 Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is located in a cavity excavated inside Red Hill. Situated under 100 feet (30 meters) of volcanic rock it is the largest underground storage tank facility in the US. Twenty cylindrical steel-lined underground tanks, encased in concrete, can each hold 12.5 million gallons (47.3 million liters) of fuel and the facility’s total fuel storage capacity is 250 million gallons (946 million liters). The 20 fuel tanks are 20 feet (6 meters) in diameter and 250 feet (26 meters) high, about the height of a 20-storey building. Owned by the U.S. Navy, Red Hill supports military operations in the Pacific; three pipelines 4 kilometers in length run to fuelling piers at Pearl Harbor. The facility stores and dispenses three types of petroleum fuel: marine diesel for ship and two types of jet fuel, JP-5 and JP-8.[1]

Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:13/01/2014
Company names or state enterprises:TEC Inc from United States of America - Produced 2008 study - Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility Final Groundwater Protection Plan which researched secondary containment and leak detection technology options
AECOM from United States of America - Developed a computer model of what the underground storage tanks might look like
Relevant government actors:U.S. Navy
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Red Hill -
Hawaii Department of Health
Honolulu City Council
Honolulu Board of Water Supply
United States Geological Survey (USGS)
Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi -
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsRisk of jet fuel contaminating aquifer
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsRisk of illnesses caused by contamination of water supplies
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Proposal and development of alternatives:The Sierra Club argues that the Red Hill facility should be shut down because the fuel tank walls are thinning meaning the risk of further leaks and there is no plan to ensure protection of water sources. The Sierra Club suggests relocating the fuel facility far away from drinking water supplies.[8] A resolution passed by Honolulu City Council called on the EPA and Hawaii Heath Department to either use a secondary containment tank to reduce the risk of leaks or relocate the facility.[10]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The response to the major jet fuel spill that was detected in January 2014 has been inadequate, in spite of the risk posed to the drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people and even though a long history of leaks from all 20 underground fuel tanks became evident. Measures that would ensure better protection against water contamination have not been implemented.
Sources & Materials

[1] Evaluating Fuel Leak And Aging Infrastructure At Red Hill, Hawaii, The Largest Underground Fuel Storage Facility In The United States, Office of Underground Storage Tanks, EPA, February 2017
[click to view]

[2] U.S. Navy: Red Hill fuel spill now pegged at 27,000 gallons, KITV Island News, 31 January 2014
[click to view]

[3] Navy Pressed to Address Safety of Red Hill Tanks, Military Daily News, 28 April 2014
[click to view]

[4] Officials: Navy Slow to Address Red Hill’s Threat to Drinking Water, Civil Beat, 2 June 2014
[click to view]

[5] Navy says 3 tiny holes found in Red Hill fuel tank, Honolulu Star Advertiser, 12 June 2014
[click to view]

[6] Navy pinpoints possible source of Red Hill underground fuel tank, HawaiiNewsNow, 24 June 2014
[click to view]

[7] Court Rules Red Hill Tanks Violate State Law, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi, 21 February 2018
[click to view]

[8] RED HILL WATER SECURITY, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi, December 2018
[click to view]

[9] My Tour Of The Red Hill Fuel Facility That Threatens Oahu’s Water, Civil Beat, 24 May 2018
[click to view]

[10] Council calls on regulators to better protect against Red Hill fuel tank leaks, HawaiiNewsNow, 8 March 2019
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Flint-ing with Disaster: The Leaky Red Hill Fuel Tanks - Erwin Kawata and Ernest Lau, ThinkTech Hawaii, 8 April 2016
[click to view]

Lack of Fire Protection and Standards at Navy Red Hill Fuel Facility, Tina Quizon, 12 September 2014
[click to view]

Red Hill, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi, 20 March 2017
[click to view]

Part II of Flint-ing with Disaster: BWS on the Leaky Red Hill Fuel Tanks, ThinkTech Hawaii, 16 April 2016
[click to view]

More Leaks at the Navy Red Hill Fuel Tanks & Tunnel Complex, Tina Quizon, 6 September 2015
[click to view]

Petition - Protect Oʻahu's Water from Red Hill Fuel Tanks, Sierra Club
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:4040
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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