The U.S. Navy confirmed Thursday that one of its massive underground tanks near Pearl Harbor has a leak and may have spilled up to 20,000 gallons of aviation fuel, raising concerns about potential drinking water contamination.
The Navy began investigating the possibility of a leak at the historic Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility on Monday after officials noticed a discrepancy in the tank’s fuel levels and later discovered a 3 foot wide wet spot on a nearby concrete wall. Tests confirmed that the fuel soaking the wall matched that in the tank.
Earlier this week, the Navy shut down a well that serves the military, and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply closed five wells in the Aiea area, according to military and government officials who spoke at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
The most western well has since been reopened to avoid a water shortage, according to Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer of the city’s water supply board. He told Civil Beat that he is “pretty confident” about the safety of the water in the reopened well.
Lau and military officials stressed that it was unlikely that the fuel had percolated into the nearby Red Hill aquifer and that they believed Oahu’s water was safe to drink.
In order for the fuel, comprised primarily of kerosene, to escape the facility and enter the water supply it would have to permeate the concrete walls surrounding the facility, as well as the rocky hillside, said Tom Clements, a Navy spokesman.
Still, Navy and government officials are awaiting the results of drinking water tests, which are expected to be available early next week. The samples were sent to a lab run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in California, Lau said.
In the meantime, the 8 million gallon reduction to Oahu’s water supply is minimal — Oahu consumes 140 million gallons of water a day.
The tank is one of 20 massive fuel tanks at the once top secret military facility built in the early years of World War II. Each tank stands 250 feet tall, with a 100-foot circumference, and can hold up to 12.6 million gallons, or the equivalent of 21 Olympic size swimming pools. Fuel from the underground tanks runs through a series of pipelines to Pearl Harbor.
The leaking tank had been idle for four years and was brought back into service in December after undergoing routine maintenance, said Capt. Mark Wheeler, commanding officer of Pearl Harbor’s Fleet Logistics Center.
Wheeler said the military began refilling the tank on Dec. 10, and it was nearly full when the leak was detected. The military has been moving the fuel to a separate tank, but the transfer likely won’t be complete until Saturday.
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