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Senate considers bill prohibiting underground fuel storage tanks near aquifers

Navy Red Hill fuel storage tank Department of Health
Hawaii Department of Health

A state Senate bill that would prohibit underground fuel storage tanks within half a mile of an aquifer has advanced at the state Legislature. An amended version of the bill would also make it illegal to operate a facility under state law by next year.

SB2172 is in response to the Navy’s Red Hill fuel tanks, which contaminated drinking water of residents and military personnel in November.

The Senate committees on Health and Agriculture and Environment held a joint hearing on the proposal Wednesday. More than 270 people submitted written testimony in support of the bill.

The original bill would prohibit the state Department of Health from issuing a new permit for any underground fuel storage tank within a half mile of the outer edge of an aquifer. That would go into effect on July 1.

There was some confusion as to what constituted the outer edge of the an aquifer.

On recommendation from the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi and the state Department of Health, the limiting boundary was changed to "mauka of the Underground Injection Control line." The health department has maps of this line on the six most populated islands that went into effect in 1984.

Joanna Seto, chief of the state DOH Environmental Management Division, explained that the line is where DOH believes that an underground injection control well can be installed with less than impactful discharges into the ground.

The bill also proposed ceasing operations of underground fuel storage tanks in this definition by 2050. Some testifiers asked for tighter deadlines, and the amended version pushes up to date to Jan. 1, 2023.

Amendments also clarified the definition of the underground fuel storage tank, which it said would be over 100,000 gallons in capacity.

Another amendment would also allow new permits to be issued — if a permit was needed to remove a fuel tank.

HTH, HTH-AEN Public Hearings 01-26-2022 1:00pm

Eric Lee of Par Hawaii, who testified on behalf of the Hawaii Petroleum Marketers Association, worried there may be unintended consequences.

“As part of the initiative for the state, there is a desire to replace the existing hydrocarbon fuels with clean fuels or biofuels, and the logical storage for those fuels would be in underground storage tanks to support the retail community," Lee said. "The alternative would be above ground storage tanks which brings in other issues regarding the safe operation of that facility due to possible vandalism or terrorism.”

The proposal must also go through a joint hearing of the Judiciary and Ways and Means committees before a second reading.

Jason Ubay is the managing editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at
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