None of the fuel made contact with the environment, according to the leader of the defueling team.

Soon after a military team began removing fuel from the Red Hill storage facility last month, two incidents occurred that released a combined three gallons of fuel, according to Navy Vice Adm. John Wade, who heads Joint Task Force – Red Hill.

On Oct. 16, the day defueling began, pressure built up in the system, and a valve in the Red Hill underground pumphouse began to leak, Wade said during a public Fuel Tank Advisory Committee meeting on Wednesday.

Members in support of Joint Task Force-Red Hill (JTF-RH) inspect the quality of fuel from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF), during routine nighttime operations at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Nov. 7, 2023.  JTF-RH is in the fifth and final phase of its defueling plan, where JTF-RH along with Defense Logistics Agency Energy and Fleet Logistics Center Pearl Harbor, are safely defueling the RHBFSF. This stage consists of defueling approximately 104 million gallons of fuel, with planned strategic pauses for safety checks, and transporting the fuel to various locations throughout the Pacific. JTF-RH continues to work in collaboration with state and federal regulators to ensure proper oversight throughout the defueling process. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Linzmeier)
Workers supporting Joint Task Force-Red Hill (JTF-RH) inspect the quality of fuel at Red Hill during routine nighttime operations on Nov. 7, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo/2023)

The defueling effort is being monitored by “rovers” and cameras surveying the entire World War II facility. As soon as the leak was detected, personnel isolated the valve and were able to collect a gallon of fuel from a “primary containment” system, Wade said.

Another leak occurred on Oct. 26 just outside the underground pumphouse, according to Wade. In that case as well, the leak was identified, isolated and “corrected on the spot,” Wade said. All liquid was collected and disposed of, he said.

Incidents like there were expected, Wade said, given the complexity of removing 104 million gallons of fuel from Red Hill. That’s why his team had procedures for such an event and were trained to respond, he said. There was no environmental contamination and no threat to Oahu’s primary drinking water aquifer, which is located underneath the Red Hill facility.

“There was absolutely no release to the environment,” he said.

Wade’s team has already removed the vast majority of the fuel from Red Hill. Early next year, his task force will hand off the job to a Navy team headed by Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett. That group will lead the process of permanently closing the complex.

In emotional remarks, Wade thanked the community for its scrutiny of Red Hill, which he said has helped his team stay vigilant.

“There have been some tough questions, and those questions have made us think critically and made us double check and triple check our work, and it’s made us safer, and I’m grateful for that, so thank you,” he said.  

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