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State orders Navy to remove fuel from Red Hill storage facility

NAVSEC RED HILL 2 carlos del toro
Office of the Secretary of the Navy
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Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday tour the Red Hill fuel storage facility on Dec. 6, 2021.

While the U.S. Navy temporarily halted operations at its Red Hill fuel storage facility last week after reports of contaminated water, Gov. David Ige and the Hawaiʻi Department of Health have ordered the Navy to further suspend operations and make plans to remove the fuel.

The order comes in the wake of tests that showed petroleum in the Navy’s drinking water. Nearly 1,000 military households have complained about their tap water and some have said they have suffered physical ailments such as cramps and vomiting recently after drinking it.

Gov. David Ige said Monday he discussed the order with Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro.

"He expressed his commitment that the Navy would be taking appropriate action, that they have not been able to operate the facility in a way that they should be," Ige said.

Ige's emergency order requires the Navy to:

  • Immediately suspend operations, including fuel transfers, at Red Hill, which contains about 180 million gallons of fuel.
  • Install a drinking water treatment system to ensure the water system conforms to federal and state regulations.
  • Submit a work plan and schedule within 30 days to assess the system integrity to safely defuel the tanks — and upon DOH’s approval, make necessary corrective actions.
  • Within 30 days of completion of required corrective actions, remove fuel from the Red Hill facility.

The state continues to recommend Navy water system users should avoid ingestion. Those who detect a fuel-like odor should further avoid using the water for bathing, dishwashing or laundry.

Carlos del Toro NAVSEC
Robert F. Bukaty/AP
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AP
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro speaks at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in Kittery, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Navy officials confirmed they have not been making fuel transfers from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility since Nov. 27, around the time residents near Pearl Harbor reported a chemical odor and oily sheen in their drinking water.

Del Toro pledged to fix the problem of contaminated drinking water near Pearl Harbor — and vowed it will not happen again.

At a briefing with reporters Monday, Del Toro said officials are close to finding out the source of the petroleum that leaked into the Navy’s water supply. He told reporters he was apologizing to everyone affected by what he called a “horrible, horrible tragedy.”

Del Toro said he is looking at all options for short and long-term solutions.

"For the past two days, the Chief of Naval Operations and I have met and actively listened to several groups of people who were affected by this crisis. And we are taking the necessary actions to make all resources available to help them in every possible way.  I understand how disruptive this has been to your daily lives, and I am committed to finding and fixing the root cause of this issue," Del Toro said.

When asked if the Navy is considering permanently shutting down the fuel tank farm, Del Toro said all possibilities are being explored.

“We’re looking at some very serious options here in the very near future,” he said.

Fuel from the tanks is used to power many U.S. military ships and planes that patrol the Pacific Ocean, but Del Toro said the cutoff's impact on military operations would “have a very minimal effect, if any, at all right now."

“I don’t want to get into topics with conversations with regards to how long we can continue to do this for national security reasons, but there’s really no minimum operation to our fleet’s activities or activities impacting the Air Force or the Army or the Marine Corps for any near term at all,” Del Toro said.

The World War II-era Red Hill fuel tank facility sits above one of Honolulu’s most important aquifers and water sources.

The facility has 20 steel-lined underground tanks, which can collectively store up to 250 million gallons (946 million liters) of fuel. The tanks are encased in concrete and stored inside cavities of a volcanic mountain ridge near Honolulu. Pipelines from the tanks run 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) inside a tunnel to fueling piers at Pearl Harbor.

The Navy has said Red Hill is vital to maritime security, regional stability, humanitarian assistance and continued prosperity in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Read Ige's full Emergency Order sent to the Navy below, or click here to open a new tab.

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