The 27,000-gallon fuel spill which occurred at Red Hill in 2013 remains an issue of great concern due to the risk this, and the potential for future leaks/spills, have on one of our main aquifers serving over 25% of Oahu. The finalized agreement between Department of Health, EPA, and the Navy is woefully inadequate.
The Red Hill fuel storage facility was built during a critical time during World War II, and has supplied fuel for military operations in the Pacific since 1943. However, the reality is today, no such underground fuel storage facility would ever be allowed to be built over a water aquifer.
While there are many concerns with the current plan, there are 4 primary issues that must be addressed by the Parties to the AOC:
1. Advanced leak detection and corrosion prevention
Existing leak detection practices are insufficient and inadequate to prevent another leakage of thousands of gallons of fuel into our aquifer. There should be hourly inspections of fuel levels in all tanks, automated systems that sound alarms upon any change in fuel levels, and an expedited plan to empty a tank as soon as a leak is detected, to prevent further fuel leaks from the tanks and potential groundwater contamination.
2. Install secondary containment/double-lining or better
The Navy has conducted multiple studies, including two in 1998 and 2008 that reached the same conclusion: To keep our water safe, we must double-line the fuel tanks. Moreover, beginning next year, the EPA will require all new underground fuel storage tanks to be secondarily contained. Rather than conduct yet another study, we should move forward quickly with providing this essential level of protection through secondary containment.
3. Address the fuel that's already been spilled
No real remediation attempt has been made to identify exactly where this fuel went, how much got into the water, or how much has been soaked into the bedrock which separates the tanks from the aquifer. Multiple tests have confirmed that leaked fuel is in the groundwater underneath Red Hill. All efforts should be made to clean the contaminated groundwater and ensure the bedrock doesn't serve as a continued source of pollution.
Cost-considerations related to improvements and clean-up must not compromise the end result. The Navy and DLA are concerned about the total cost of improvements to the existing facility or relocation of the tanks. What must be understood, however, is that if immediate action is not taken, the costs of contaminated ground water clean-up, and the resulting hardship for Oahu residents would be infinitely greater.
It's critical that the Navy reconsider alternative fuel storage options in Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific region that would decrease overall risk to our groundwater, and provide potential cost-savings in the long run. If relocation is not feasible, then, at a minimum, the Navy should immediately take action to eliminate the constant threat of fuel contamination to Oahu's drinking water resources.
As the most isolated island chain in the world, the necessity to protect our water resources in Hawaii cannot be overstated. The actions we take now not only impact the health and safety of our current generations, but every generation to come.