Protect Oʻahu’s primary water source

Video by Caitlin Rodgers, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi Intern, 2017

In January 2014, the U.S. Navy reported that 27,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked from a tank at its Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. This facility holds twenty fuel storage tanks, 18 of which are active, and is located a mere 100 feet above Oʻahu’s primary aquifer that serves over 400,000 residents from Moanalua to Hawaiʻi Kai.

Previous studies have shown this is not the first leak from this facility—since its construction in the 1940s, this facility has leaked as much as 200,000 gallons of fuel into the environment—and the groundwater beneath the tanks may already be contaminated with fuel.  We are concerned these tanks will continue to leak, posing a serious threat to the future of Oʻahu’s drinking water.

Despite these leaks and impending threats, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have released no plans for cleaning up the leaked fuel and offered no assurance that future leaks will not occur.  The EPA’s current plan only calls for the monitoring and renovating of these outdated tanks.

We are calling on the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, EPA, and U.S. Navy to: 

  • Upgrade or replace all field-constructed underground storage tanks and tank systems
  • Provide secondary containment for all tanks to prevent any future leaks, and
  • Locate and clean up all leaked fuel.

If these expectations cannot be met, then the obsolete fuel storage tanks at Red Hill should be retired, and the stored fuel relocated to modern, more reliable facilities that comply with today’s strict environmental standards.  

DETRIMENTAL IMPACTSWhy does this matter? 

The U.S. Navy and Environmental Protection Agency have released no plan for locating and cleaning up the fuel that has already leaked from the facility and offered no assurance that future leaks will not occur.

The January 2014 leak was not the first and we fear it may not be the last.  Since the most recent leak, Navy studies have detected petroleum chemicals in the groundwater underneath the tanks.

O‘ahu’s drinking water supply is being put at risk.  There is a clear lack of urgency from the responsible agencies to prevent future leaks and clean up the current contamination.

While Oʻahu’s drinking water is currently safe, these tanks put it at serious risk.

What’s the latest?


On May 24, 2017, the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi delivered official notice to the state Department of Health that their underground storage tank regulations violate a 1992 state statute. The 1992 law states, “Existing underground storage tanks or existing tank systems shall be replaced or upgraded not later than December 22, 1998 to prevent releases for their operating life.” 

The Environmental Protection Agency determined in 1987 that the Southern Oʻahu Basal Aquifer located beneath the Red Hill fuel tanks is the “principal source of drinking water” for the island, and that “if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health.” Analysis of the Navy’s spillage reports at the Red Hill facility reveals that more than 200,000 gallons of petroleum products have leaked since the facility was built more than 70 years ago.

The Sierra Club presented our findings to Dr. Virginia Pressler, director for the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, in a 68-page petition for rulemaking. Our filing concluded that the state constitution, as well as state statute, require the Department of Health to amend its underground storage tank rules because “existing rules fail to protect the quality of the water that residents drink.”


While the state Department of Health did respond to our request within the 30 day response period and recognized the need for new rules, the department did not agree with our reasoning or urgency to expedite the rulemaking process.


10.6.2016: U.S. Navy hosts annual public meeting updates on Red Hill storage leaks

8.15.2016: Sierra Club hosts public meeting updates on Red Hill storage leaks

Additional Resources:

Not the only leaking facility…

There are other communities across the country being impacted by the negligence of the military and other fuel transportation parties.  Here is one example:

Albuquerque, New Mexico: As much as 24 million gallons of jet fuel has leaked into the environment surrounding Kirtland Air Force Base since as early as the 1950s.  Not only is this spill the largest toxic contamination of an aquifer in the country’s history, the spilled fuel dates back to before the incredibly toxic ethylene dibromide (EDB) was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency.  EDB is an extremely harmful carcinogen that was used as an additive to leaded gasoline and an agricultural fumigant in the 50s and 60s.  It is incredibly soluble and stable and persists in soils and underground water – it’s hard to find and even harder (and more expensive) to get out.  Yet, decades later, the Air Force is less than concerned.  They still have not determined exactly how much fuel has been released or studied the properties of the aquifer to understand how the water moves underground and have made no effort to clean up any contaminants in the aquifer.  Click here to read more or watch this video.