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Navy Says Pearl Harbor Friday Fuel Leak Contained, Sheds Light on March 2020 Leak

Pearl Harbor
Catherine Cruz
Pearl Harbor

A weekend fuel line leak of an estimated 100 gallons at Pearl Harbor has been contained, the Navy said. The latest marine diesel fuel leak occurred Friday, but Hawaiʻi Public Radio has learned of a larger fuel leak dating back to March 2020.

The state health department's Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response team worked on both fuel leaks at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. They were not previously disclosed to the public.

"Responsible parties are urged to notify the public of their incidents and activities involving releases. If a petroleum spill creates an imminent health risk to the public, then DOH will issue a warning," the department told HPR.

The Navy responded to Friday's fuel leak at a wharf known as “Kilo Pier." Initial estimates indicate about 100 gallons of fuel leaked, Navy spokesperson Lydia Robertson said. The Navy said it also alerted the health department and the Coast Guard.

“The quick reaction of watchstanders and the existing double boomed area allowed us to contain and stop the release," said Capt. Trent Kalp of the Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center in a statement. "We are investigating what happened and working alongside regulators to ensure compliance with applicable regulatory requirements."

About 60 gallons have been recovered and recovery efforts continued Monday, according to the Navy.

HPR learned of a larger leak dating back to March 2020 while investigating Friday's fuel leak. The Navy said about 7,700 gallons of fuel have been collected from soil and water. The leak was first flagged in March 2020 after an "oil sheen" was spotted on the water near Hotel Pier, which sits closest to the Pearl Harbor visitor center.

"The leak subsequently stopped in a couple weeks. When the sheen started again in June 2020, the Navy reported it again to the DOH," the Navy told HPR. The source of the leak was "located, isolated, and secured in February (2021)."

The Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi Director Marti Townsend said she was shocked and outraged, but not surprised to learn of the latest leaks.

"I think it's important to not get too hung up on the amount of fuel that leaks," Townsend said. "It's important that we recognize that no amount of fuel should be released into the environment. The way the state law is written, it says that fuel, whatever product is being stored in an underground storage tank shall not reach the environment. And we are now having it chronically reach the environment."

The environmental organization was recently involved in a contested case hearing for the Navy's permit to operate its Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility.

The health department's Environmental Health Administration issued its findings July 13 which included, "Given the documented history of releases at the site, the uncertainty associated with the Navy’s groundwater model, and the lack of treatment or recovery systems in place to date, the Navy has not met its burden of demonstrating that this facility is protective of human health and the environment from potentially “significant” future releases."

There had been no mention of the March 2020 leak during the case proceedings, Townsend said, adding that she wants the public's and the environment's best interests to be prioritized.

The Department of Health has not yet issued a final decision on the Navy's permit.

This segment aired on The Conversation on July 19, 2021.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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