Fuel Leaked Dozens Of Times Over 65 Years, Navy Says

Twenty underground military storage tanks completed in secrecy near Pearl Harbor during World War II, stored up to 27,000 gallons of JP-8 aviation fuel.


Feb. 09--A Navy report reveals multiple leaks of many thousands of gallons of fuel over 65 years from 20 giant underground military storage tanks completed in secrecy near Pearl Harbor during World War II, including up to 27,000 gallons of JP-8 aviation fuel in a release that was announced in mid-January.

The total spillage is not detailed, with spotty records from the once-classified facility providing a far from complete picture of the extent of the fuel loss -- and its environmental consequences.

The track record of spills is mentioned in a 2008 Navy groundwater protection plan for the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. Recently obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the report sheds new light on repeated spills and concerns about the long-term integrity of the fuel farm, and discusses the possible migration of some of that fuel into Pearl Harbor's drinking water.

The Navy report notes dozens of leaks dating back to 1949, including the loss of 11,000 gallons in July of that year and 18,000 gallons in December in Tank 16.

From 1970 to 1972 there was an "unexplained" fuel drop of 31,294 gallons in Tank 1, and from 1975 to 1978 a similarly unexplained loss of 32,765 gallons.

Tank 15 "leaked badly upon refilling after tank repair and lining, no details," the report said of a 1981 fuel loss.

The report states that in some cases, the leaks went into internal tank piping known as "tell-tales" and were not external leaks. In other cases, there's no indication where the fuel went.

In 1981, Tank 10 experienced a "severe leak" near the top of the tank and an unstated quantity of fuel ran out onto concrete, the report states.

Tom Clements, a spokes-man for Navy Region Hawaii, said in an email Friday that Tank 5, which experienced the most recent leak, had been drained of JP-8 by Jan. 18.

After a venting process that can take several weeks, workers will be able to enter the 245-foot-tall, 100-foot diameter steel-lined tank to investigate the source of the leak, Clements said.

"There is no indication at this time that the fuel has migrated beyond the concrete casing," Clements added.

Steven Chang, chief of the state Health Department's Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch, said the Navy had just brought the tank back into service in December and when it was filled up it started to leak, eventually losing up to 27,000 gallons.

The 2008 Navy report notes steps that have been taken to improve monitoring for leaks. But it also raises concern about the age of the facility and the increased potential for a fuel leak breaching the steel liner and concrete containment and contaminating a nearby Navy well that provides 24 percent of the potable water to a Pearl Harbor water system serving 52,200 military consumers.

"The age of the facility and the mission-critical requirements for its storage capacity combine to present a significant future risk of a moderate to large release of fuel to the underlying groundwater," the report states.

While the tank steel liners have been repaired, the document says, the concrete containment casing cannot be maintained.

The water resource is "virtually irreplaceable," and remediation of a large fuel release and water contamination would be extremely costly and technically difficult, the report said.

Clements said the Navy "has continually refined its detection, protection and response capabilities at Red Hill over the years," adding, "We conduct routine, systemic checks of fuel levels in the tanks."

The Navy "routinely" conducts sampling and analysis of groundwater using wells dug beneath the tanks and soil vapor testing beneath the tanks, Clements said.

"We continue to improve our system of monitoring and detection and incorporate new technologies whenever possible," he said.

To prevent leaks, Clements said the tanks undergo a preventive maintenance cycle in which they are inspected to identify areas of weakness such as thinning of steel due to corrosion or weld deficiencies.

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