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Confused about the timeline for the Red Hill fuel storage facility and contaminated water? Read this.

navy red hill fuel storage facility tunnel pipelines
Petty Officer 1st Class Luke J M/Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet
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Digital
(Dec. 23, 2021) – Rear Adm. John Korka, Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC), and Chief of Civil Engineers, leads Navy and civilian water quality personnel through the tunnels of the Red Hill fuel storage facility. (U.S. Navy photo)

There's been a lot of news and information about water contamination from a leak at the Navy's fuel storage facility at Red Hill, or Kapūkakī, on Oʻahu. While remediation efforts continue, the history and issues surrounding Red Hill began long before.

The facility, which was constructed in the early 1940s, consists of 20 tanks mined inside a volcanic ridge near Pearl Harbor. Each tank measures 100 feet in diameter and 250 feet in height — roughly as tall as a 25-story building.

They can hold up to 250 million gallons of fuel, or 12.5 million gallons each. Fuel travels 2.5 miles via pipelines to ships and planes waiting at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

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Leslie Nelson
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Wikipedia via Creative Commons
FILE - Inside a fuel storage tank at the Red Hill facility.

Hundreds of thousands of Oʻahu residents — civilian and military — rely on drinking water from an aquifer that sits 100 feet below the fuel storage facility. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply and the Navy draw water from the same aquifer but use separate distribution systems.

The state ordered the U.S. Navy to halt operations at the Red Hill facility after a petroleum leak on Nov. 20, 2021, contaminated the Navy water system.

Navy officials say a spill of jet fuel inside an access tunnel contaminated one of its wells. They say the fuel tanks themselves did not taint the water. Still, local officials and environmental activists have called for the facility to be shut down.

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Timeline

This timeline will be updated as new information becomes available. Find more of HPR's coverage on the Red Hill fuel storage facility here.

Nov. 3, 2022: The military finishes removing 1 million gallons of fuel. Three types of fuel — JP-5, F-24 and F-76 — had been sitting in pipelines since the Navy ceased operations at the facility last year.

Oct. 25, 2022: The military begins draining 1 million gallons of sitting fuel from pipelines that run from Red Hill to Pearl Harbor. The military says 104 million gallons remain in the tanks themselves.

Oct. 14, 2022: Water main breaks on the Navy's system leave thousands of military residents on a boil water advisory, and cause the Navy to postpone unpacking 1 million gallons of fuel sitting in Red Hill pipelines.

Oct. 4, 2022: Health officials approve the Navy's plan to remove about 1 million gallons of fuel currently sitting in the pipes — a requirement before repairs and eventually tank defueling can begin.

SECDEF lloyd austin Visit to Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility
Chad McNeeley/Office of the Secretary of Defense
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Digital
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks with Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, after a tour of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility on Sept. 30, 2022. (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)

Sept. 28, 2022: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visits Hawaiʻi in part to tour Red Hill and meet with Rear Adm. John Wade, commander in charge of defueling the facility.

Sept. 7, 2022: Navy says it can defuel the Red Hill facility by July 2024, five months sooner than initially predicted.

Aug. 4, 2022: Lawyers for families affected by the Red Hill crisis ask the Navy to evacuate homes on its water system after University of Hawaiʻi water sampling data is consistent with a low concentration of fuel contamination.

July 22, 2022: Health officials reject the Navy’s initial defueling plan for Red Hill because it "lacks the requisite detail and specificity necessary for the DOH to fully evaluate how the Navy will execute safe and expeditious defueling."

June 20, 2022: The first detailed Navy investigation reveals how shoddy management and human error caused fuel to leak into Pearl Harbor’s tap water. The report listed a cascading series of mistakes from May 6, 2021, when operator error caused a pipe to rupture and 21,000 gallons of fuel to spill when fuel was being transferred between tanks. The fuel spilled into a fire suppression line, sat there for six months and then spilled again when a cart rammed into it on Nov. 20, 2021.

A separate defueling report from the Defense Department says the end of 2024 is the earliest it could defuel the tanks safely.

May 27, 2022: Navy releases a third-party assessment of the Red Hill fuel storage facility. The 880-page document identifies "a host of maintenance issues" such as corroded piping, damaged coating, missing bracing, degraded pier structures, and more.

May 9, 2022: Navy says it will not contest Hawaiʻi's updated emergency order to defuel and shut down Red Hill.

May 6, 2022: Health officials issue an updated emergency order to defuel Red Hill. The Navy must provide its independent contractor’s assessment on facility operations by May 15, a plan and implementation schedule to defuel by June 30, and a plan for closure of the facility by Nov. 1.

April 22, 2022: Military drops its appeal of Hawaiʻi's order to drain the tanks. The appeal was filed in February.

April 7, 2022: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterates the Defense Department’s pledge to defuel Red Hill, but does not give a timeline for doing so.

April 4, 2022: Navy relieves Capt. Albert Lee Hornyak as commanding officer of NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center due to "a series of leadership and oversight failures" at Red Hill.

April 1, 2022: About 30 gallons of a "fuel and water mixture" leak during maintenance work to remove water from a fuel tank, the Navy says.

March 24, 2022: The estimated cost of the Hawaiʻi Department of Health's response from the beginning of the water crisis to June 30 will be approximately $4.5 million, Deputy Environmental Health Director Kathleen Ho says.

March 18, 2022: Health officials say the tap water is safe to drink in all residential areas served by the Navy’s water system.

March 15, 2022: The Navy will conduct a second investigation into two fuel leaks at Red Hill after determining its first probe did not sufficiently review the situation, Hawaiʻi Public Radio has learned.

March 10, 2022: The Board of Water Supply urges Aiea-Hālawa and Urban Honolulu residents to reduce water use by 10% due to lower than normal rainfall and the continued shutdown of three key wells.

March 7, 2022: The U.S. Department of Defense says it will permanently shut down Red Hill and remove all the fuel. The military will now move to a more dispersed fueling system for ships and aircraft in the Indo-Pacific.

March 3, 2022: Health officials say tap water is safe for consumption in three more zones encompassing McGrew Point, Camp Smith, and part of the Aliamanu Military Reservation.

March 1, 2022: Health officials say the Navy is not in compliance with the emergency order to defuel because the third-party contractor selected to evaluate the facility "is not currently in a position to act independently."

Health officials say tap water in three more Pearl Harbor neighborhoods is safe to drink.

Feb. 25, 2022: Navy officials say water testing has detected a petroleum compound at a level of 460 parts per billion in one Halsey Terrace home. The state Department of Health's limit is 211 parts per billion.

Feb. 24, 2022: The administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency visits Hawaiʻi. An inspection starting Feb. 28 will look at whether the fuel tank facility was properly operated.

Feb. 23, 2022: The Honolulu City Council unanimously approves a bill that would require a city permit to operate large storage tanks like those at Red Hill.

Health officials say water in a second Pearl Harbor neighborhood is safe to drink.

Feb. 14, 2022: Health officials say water in one Pearl Harbor neighborhood is safe to drink — the first of 19 neighborhood zones.

Feb. 11, 2022: U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Kaialiʻi Kahele say they are introducing legislation to permanently shut down Red Hill. Kahele's office says U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz is introducing a companion bill in the Senate.

Tainted Water Hawaii-Rally
Caleb Jones/AP
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AP
Hawaiʻi's U.S. Rep. Kaiali'i Kahele speaks at a rally calling for the shutdown of the Navy's underground fuel tanks near Pearl Harbor, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022 in Honolulu. Kahele and U.S. Rep Ed Case, left, said they have introduced legislation to permanently shut down the facility. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

Feb. 7, 2022: Hawaiʻi members of Congress say a spending bill includes $403 million to address the crisis — with a portion of that for draining the fuel. It passes on Feb. 17 and President Joe Biden signs it a day later.

Feb. 4, 2022: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will inspect Red Hill and assess its compliance with regulations.

Feb. 2, 2022: Attorneys for the U.S. Navy appeal Hawaiʻi's order to drain the tanks, saying the state wrongly concluded the tanks posed an imminent threat that requires immediate action.

But in compliance with the emergency order, the Navy submits documents to the health department about assessing "facility operations and system integrity" to safely defuel the tanks.

Jan. 31, 2022: U.S. Department of Defense says it will appeal the state order to remove fuel from Red Hill, drawing criticism from Hawaiʻi’s congressional delegation, the health department and others.

Jan. 27, 2022: The Hawaiʻi Department of Health permits the Navy to flush up to 5 million gallons of treated water a day from its contaminated Red Hill Shaft into the Halawa Stream.

Halawa Stream discharge point navy water flushing
Scott Kim
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HPR
Halawa Stream discharge point for Navy's water flushing system. (Jan. 28, 2022)

Jan. 25, 2022: Health officials say updated monitoring data from the Navy shows increased levels of fuel in soil vapor and groundwater in several areas around Red Hill.

A health department deputy director probes the Navy to release the results of an investigation into fuel leaks at Red Hill.

Jan. 18, 2022: The contract begins for engineering firm Simpson Gumpertz & Heger — hired on Jan. 11 for $1.45 million — "to assess facility operations and system integrity" at Red Hill.

Jan. 13, 2022: A coalition of federal and local stakeholders finalize the Navy's water flushing process.

Jan. 11, 2022: The Navy says it will comply with Hawaiʻi's order to remove fuel from Red Hill, but does not dismiss the prospect of legal challenges.

Jan. 7, 2022: Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, issues an internal directive to "fully comply" with the Hawaiʻi Department of Health order.

Jan. 4, 2022: Federal public health officials begin investigating the effects of contaminated water on civilians.

Hawaiʻi's congressional delegation urges the Navy to comply with the state order to drain fuel from the tanks.

Jan. 3, 2022: The Department of Health upholds the state order requiring the Navy to drain the Red Hill fuel tanks. Marian Tsuji, the department's deputy director, says she agrees with the conclusions of the hearings officer.

Dec. 29, 2021: In response to the state hearings officer, the Navy files objections to the recommendation that it should remove fuel from its storage facility.

Dec. 27, 2021: Calling the Red Hill facility “a metaphorical ticking timebomb,” a state hearings officer recommends the Navy should comply with the state order that, among other things, requires the removal of millions of gallons of fuel.

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Screenshot
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Hawaiʻi Department of Health YouTube
Counsel representing the U.S. Navy, Hawaiʻi Department of Health, Honolulu Board of Water Supply and Sierra Club at an evidentiary hearing on Dec. 21, 2021.

Dec. 21, 2021: After a nearly 13-hour health department hearing, local officials, military representatives and intervenors present their closing arguments on whether or not the Navy must defuel Red Hill.

During the hearing, a Navy official says engineers have a “working theory” that the May fuel leak — much bigger than first disclosed — may have migrated into the drinking water, causing this contamination.

Dec. 20, 2021: The Hawaiʻi Department of Health begins the contested case hearing for the emergency order issued to the Navy about removing fuel from the tanks and halting operations.

The Navy begins filtering and flushing its water system.

The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General says it will investigate "to determine the extent that Navy officials managed the operation, maintenance, safety, and oversight of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, and protected the environment and drinking water systems, in compliance with Federal and state regulations and DoD policy."

navy water filter 122021
Casey Harlow
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HPR
Navy personnel use filter systems to clean contaminated water on Dec. 20, 2021.

Dec. 17, 2021: The U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health announce the creation of an interagency partnership to ensure clean drinking water.

Dec. 16, 2021: Hawaiʻi’s congressional delegation asks House and Senate leaders to make sure the military spends whatever money it has available to address the contamination.

Dec. 15, 2021: The Honolulu City Council approves the first reading of a bill that would give the city oversight of large underground storage tanks such as those at the Red Hill facility. The council also passes a resolution calling for the permanent closure, defueling and removal of the tanks.

Dec. 14, 2021: The Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi says it wants to intervene in proceedings for the state’s emergency order against the Navy.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks tours the facility and meets with local officials.

Dec. 13, 2021: Navy divers begin trying to remove jet fuel from the Red Hill water shaft near Pearl Harbor.

Dec. 10, 2021: Water from the Navy’s Red Hill shaft contains high levels of gasoline and diesel fuel hydrocarbons, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health confirms. Hydrocarbons associated with diesel fuel were detected at 350 times the level the health department considers safe.

Dec. 8, 2021: The Department of Health reports diesel fuel levels are more than double the limit for drinking water in the Navy’s ʻAiea-Halawa Shaft. The Navy says "the sample was not from the Halawa well but from an off-service section of the water distribution system." As a precaution, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply shuts down its ʻAiea and Halawa wells.

Dec. 7, 2021: The Navy contests the health department's order to further suspend the use of fuel tanks and drain them.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro directs the pause of all operations at the Red Hill storage tanks until the investigation into the source of the petroleum leak is completed — but does not mention defueling the tank, as the emergency order directed.

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.

Dec. 6, 2021: The Navy says it suspended the use of the storage tank facility on Nov. 27.

Gov. David Ige and the Department of Health order the Navy to further suspend operations until independent evaluators can ensure that appropriate actions are taken to protect drinking water. They also order the Navy to treat contaminated drinking water and plan to remove the fuel.

Dec. 5, 2021: Gov. David Ige and Hawaiʻi’s congressional delegation say that operations at the Red Hill fuel site should be suspended immediately.

Rear Adm. Blake Converse says at a town hall meeting that a recent spill was likely the source of the contamination found in the well.

Dec. 3, 2021: The Honolulu Board of Water Supply shuts down its Halawa Shaft as a precaution. A report released Dec. 13 by the BWS finds no contaminants in its Halawa Shaft.

The Hawaiʻi congressional delegation urges Gov. David Ige to request an emergency declaration from President Joe Biden.

The U.S. Navy authorizes evacuation and/or lodging allowances for residents in affected areas.

Dec. 2, 2021: The Navy says tests have identified petroleum in its Red Hill well. Rear Adm. Blake Converse, Pacific Fleet deputy commander, told a town hall meeting the Navy took this well offline on Nov. 28 because it was the closest well to affected housing areas. The source of contamination is not yet announced.

The U.S. Army authorizes evacuation and/or lodging allowances for residents in affected areas.

Dec. 1, 2021: Preliminary testing shows the presence of petroleum product in a water sample from Red Hill Elementary which is on the Navy water system, Hawaiʻi health officials say.

Nov. 30, 2021: The Navy recommends Joint Base Pearl Harbor – Hickam military housing residents avoid ingestion of their potable water as a cautionary measure "if chemical or petroleum odors are present."

Nov. 29, 2021: The U.S. Navy says it is investigating reports of a "chemical smell" in drinking water at some military homes. The state Department of Health recommends "all Navy water system users avoid using the water for drinking, cooking, or oral hygiene."

The Navy opens fire hydrants and illegally flushes contaminated water directly onto sidewalks and residential streets, Honolulu Civil Beat reports.

Admiral Samuel Paparo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, says he ordered an investigation into the Nov. 20 incident and reopened the investigation into the May 6 incident.

Nov. 28, 2021: Military residents begin complaining about gas or fuel odor from their drinking water. Some say they've been getting sick. The Navy says there is no "immediate indication" that the water is unsafe.

The Navy takes its Red Hill water well offline but does not disclose that information until about Dec. 2. It remains isolated from the distribution system.

Nov. 27, 2021: The Navy halts use of the Red Hill storage tank facility but does not disclose that information until Dec. 6.

Hawaii Navy red hill Fuel Tanks Sierra Club of Hawaii Wayne Tanaka 112421
Audrey McAvoy/AP
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AP
Sierra Club of Hawaii Director Wayne Tanaka speaks at a news conference and rally in Honolulu, on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. Citing threats to Honolulu's drinking water, environmental groups called on President Joe Biden and military leaders to shut down tanks that provide an important fuel reserve for the U.S. forces in the Pacific. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

Nov. 24, 2021: Local environmental groups call for the federal government to close down the facility, saying they’ve had enough of the problems surrounding the storage tanks.

Nov. 20 - 21, 2021: The Navy initially reports 14,000 gallons of a fuel and water mix leaked from a fire suppression drain line. The Navy said the drinking water was safe and there were no signs fuel escaped into the environment. In a January 2022 report, the Navy says "approximately 19,000 gallons of JP-5" leaked.

Oct. 27, 2021: The state Department of Health fines the U.S. Navy more than $325,000 for operations and maintenance violations at Red Hill.

Oct. 26, 2021: The Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi files a public records complaint with the state Department of Health after learning of an email trail it believes could change the outcome of a contested case hearing for the Navy’s permit to operate the Red Hill facility.

Oct. 8, 2021: Honolulu Civil Beat reports Navy officials knew the early 2020 Hotel Pier incident was due to an active fuel leak, "but officials waited months to report it to the department amid concerns it would hamper its ability to secure a state permit."

"It was the end of January, just days before the U.S. Navy was set to appear in a hearing before the Hawaii Department of Health that would determine the fate of its Red Hill underground fuel facility," Civil Beat reporter Christina Jedra wrote.

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Catherine Cruz
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HPR
Pearl Harbor

May 6-7, 2021: A pipeline releases 1,618 gallons of fuel due to operator error, the Navy says. Navy officials maintain the leak did not contaminate drinking water.

The Navy later revised the number of gallons to 21,000 while investigating how fuel contaminated the water in November 2021.

February 2021: The contested case hearing for the Navy's five-year permit takes place over several days.

Early 2020: An "oil sheen" is detected on surface water near Hotel Pier at Pearl Harbor. The military tells Hawaiʻi Public Radio about the fuel leak in June 2021 — something previously not disclosed. The Navy said about 7,700 gallons of fuel were collected from soil and water.

March-May 2019: The Navy submits to the health department an application, and revisions, for a five-year permit to operate Red Hill. In July 2019, the department says it is reviewing the case and has received requests for a contested case hearing, along with 156 public comments. The Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which have continuously called for more oversight and/or closure, contested the permit.

May 2015: The Environmental Protection Agency and Hawaiʻi Department of Health negotiate with military officials to have more oversight on tank corrosion, release detection, inspections and maintenance.

Jan. 13, 2014: About 27,000 gallons of jet fuel leak from a tank at the Red Hill storage facility.

The Navy drained the tank and collected samples from existing monitoring wells. Results in and around the tank indicated a spike in levels of hydrocarbons in soil vapor and groundwater.

"I think what this really provides us an opportunity to do today is to respond to this particular spill, to get a good handle on what's happened in the past, and make sure nothing like this happens again," then-Deputy Health Director Gary Gill said.

The leak brought broader attention to the aging Red Hill facility and highlighted the threat to Oʻahu’s groundwater. Hundreds of thousands of Oʻahu residents rely on a water aquifer 100 feet below the fuel storage facility for fresh drinking water. Gill said Red Hill has a history of contamination, some of which has worked its way down to the water table.

Red Hill construction Navy 1942 fuel storage
Navy Region Hawaiʻi
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U.S. Department of Defense
This 1942 U.S. Navy photo shows miners building just one of the 20 fuel tanks, which are connected by a miles-long tunnel.

1940 - 1943: The Red Hill fuel storage facility is planned and built during World War II.

Fuel used for the Pacific Theater was stored in above-ground tanks near Pearl Harbor. In 1940, the military decided to build a new underground facility, safe from aerial attack. When Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Red Hill construction was already underway and none of the above-ground tanks were destroyed.

Navy Region Hawaiʻi also produced this video, released in November 2021, about Red Hill and the engineering behind it:

Sophia McCullough is HPR's digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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