A mixture of fuel and water spilled from a maintenance line at the Navy’s Red Hill fuel facility on Friday afternoon, the Navy announced on Friday evening.

The Navy said in a press release that “no more than 30 gallons” were released. But in an email to Hawaii government officials, Brian Bennett, the director of outreach and government affairs for the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, said it was approximately 50 gallons.

The release occurred at approximately 12:11 p.m. and was stopped shortly thereafter, according to a Navy press release. At the time of the spill, the Navy was removing water from the fuel tanks, and so-called “dewatering” work has since stopped, the Navy said.

Red Hill well pipe will pump up to 5 million gallons of contaminated water to 8 tanks that contain granulated carbon to filter the contaminants and then be discharged into the Halawa Stream.
The Navy is already under heavy scrutiny for its operations at Red Hill. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

“The release occurred during maintenance work to remove water from the underground storage tanks, an environmental control measure to avoid corrosion in the tanks,” the Hawaii Department of Health said in a press release.

The leak is the first to be reported at the World War II-era fuel complex since November when another spill at the facility contaminated the drinking water supply of Pearl Harbor-area communities. The November leak is allegedly connected to a previous leak in May. Both fuel releases are under investigation by multiple agencies and set off a firestorm of public criticism that culminated in the U.S. Department of Defense agreeing last month to shut the facility down.

However, the defueling process is not scheduled to start anytime soon, and in the meantime, over 100 million gallons of fuel remain stored 100 feet above Oahu’s primary aquifer.

The Navy said Friday’s spill happened in the vicinity of tanks 13 and 14. DOH said the maintenance line that leaked is connected to Tank 15. The fuel and water mixture was “recovered” in Sump 2, DOH said.

According to Bennett’s email to Hawaii leaders, the cause of the spill was “a valve out of position in the common drain piping below the tanks.” The valve was supposed to be closed, he said.

“The fluid leaked out of a section of the drain piping that had been removed by a contractor for a tank cleaning and inspection procedure at Tank 14,” he said.

Bennett did not respond to a request for comment on Friday evening.

The health department said it was notified about the leak around 3 p.m. DOH officials responded to the scene and observed that the Navy had already deployed absorbent material to soak up the fuel and water, the health department said.

“DOH confirmed that the Navy had spill lookouts with radios and absorbent materials on site,” the department said. “Preliminary observations are consistent with a 30-gallon release as reported by the Navy. Fresh staining was observed around Sump 2, but appeared to be localized.”

The EPA has also been notified, according to the Navy.

“The Red Hill well remains secured, and the Navy continues to monitor drinking water,” the Navy said in a statement.

Hawaii Deputy Director of Environmental Health, Kathleen Ho, who ordered the defueling of the Red Hill facility in December, said in a statement that DOH officials were quick to respond.

“Today’s event underscores the importance of DOH and other regulatory agencies having oversight of Red Hill activities, especially around defueling and decommissioning the facility,” she said.

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