Red Hill fuel tanks far more corroded than expected

Media Contact: Marti Townsend, Director (808) 372-1314


Red Hill fuel tanks far more corroded than expected
New data does not support Navy’s proposal


Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (September 24, 2018) — Sample testing by the Navy reveals that the fuel storage tanks at Red Hill are in much worse condition than predicted, showing far more corrosion and thinning than the Navy previously assumed. Originally constructed with quarter-inch thick steel, today these massive fuels tank’s walls are less than an eighth of an inch thick in some places. The Board of Water Supply shared these preliminary findings at their monthly board meeting today.

“The Navy’s predictions are so far off, and the corrosion is so far gone, that the risk of another significant leak, potentially catastrophic, is far more severe than previously thought,” said Marti Townsend, Director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi. “Once the fuel escapes there is no way to get it back. It is irresponsible to continue the current course of action on these tanks.”

The massive Red Hill fuel tanks store up to 187 million gallons of fuel 100 feet above the primary aquifer for the island of Oʻahu. In 2014, 27,000 gallons of jet fuel seeped from hundreds of pinholes in tank 5 into the surrounding environment. Groundwater monitoring since the fuel leak indicates signs of petroleum contamination.

In response to the 2014 release, the Navy agreed to an administrative process with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Hawaiʻi Department of Health to upgrade the tanks and prevent future releases. The Navy’s current proposal through this process is to coat the bottom of the tanks with epoxy and monitor for leaks. According to the Navy’s own report, “this alternative is nearly identical to the efforts conducted to inspect and repair the Red Hill tanks over the last 13 years,” including tank 5 that leaked 27,000 gallons of jet fuel in 2014.

The Navy contends that with proper maintenance the Red Hill fuel tanks should be allowed to operate indefinitely. The data collected from actual tank samples does not support this conclusion.

The Navy cut out 10 samples from tank 14 as a way to verify their assumptions about how these unique fuel tanks have aged over the last 75 years. The Navy predicted that there would be minimal corrosion and that the steel walls would have thinned from the original 0.25-inches to between 0.187-inches and 0.135-inches.

However, of the ten samples taken, 5 samples reveal extensive corrosion at the top and along the sides of the tank. Several samples indicate thinning more severe than predicted. One sample from the side of the tank was only 0.079-of-an-inch thick, that is less than a third of the width of the original quarter-inch steel lining.

“The Navy is failing to accept the reality of the facts presented: these tanks are too far gone to be saved,” added Townsend. “The Navy is unwilling or unable to invest the funds necessary to upgrade these fuel tanks to ensure our groundwater is protected, so their only real option is to retire the tanks and relocate the fuel away from our water.”

View the 9/24 presentation from the Board of Water Supply meeting here.


About the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi: Formed in 1968, the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi has over 20,000 members and supporters working throughout the islands to stop climate change, ensure climate justice for all, and protect Hawaiʻi’s unique natural resources. The Sierra Club is the largest, oldest environmental organization in the U.S. We rely on volunteers to support outdoor education programs, trail and native species restoration projects, and grassroots advocacy for sound environmental policies.