Protect Oʻahu’s Drinking Water

Video by Caitlin Rodgers, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi intern, January 2017 

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Kapūkaki, known today as Red Hill,

is a mountain ridge located between the ahupuaʻa of Hālawa and Moanalua in the ʻewa district of Oʻahu.

For more than 70 years the United States Navy has stored fuel inside this ridge a mere 100 feet about Oʻahu’s primary drinking water supply. In that time, the facility has leaked more than 30 times with the last known leak occurring in January 2014, when 27,000 gallons of fuel was released from a single tank. This leak resulted in a 20-year agreement between the U.S. Navy, Environmental Protection Agency, Defense Logistics Agency, and the Hawaiʻi Department of Health to study, monitor and consider improvements to the storage facility.

The U.S. Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility

holds twenty fuel storage tanks, 18 of which are active. Total, these tanks store 225 million gallons of jet fuel or marine diesel—each tank big enough to fit Aloha Tower inside.

100 feet below this facility sits Oʻahu’s primary drinking water source, the Southern Oʻahu Basal Aquifer which serves over 400,000 residents and visitors. The Environmental Protection Agency determined in 1987 that this aquifer is the “principal source of drinking water” for the island, and that “if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health.”

At least 200,000 gallons of fuel have leaked into the surrounding environment from Red Hill.

This includes the 27,000 gallons that last leaked in 2014. While the drinking water is currently safe to consume, U.S. Navy studies are detecting traces of petroleum chemicals in the groundwater near the tanks.

The U.S. Navy, Environmental Protection Agency, and Hawaiʻi Department of Health have released no plan for cleaning up the leaked fuel and cannot guarantee these tanks will not leak again. It is clear that these tanks are outdated and it has been discovered that these tanks are out of compliance with today’s state and federal regulations on underground storage tanks.

In February 2018, the Sierra Club won their suit against the Hawaiʻi Department of Health—the court ruled that the exemption of the U.S. Navy’s Red Hill Fuel Tanks is a violation of state law. Read more here.


Hawaiʻi’s Department of Health is responsible for regulating underground storage tanks and protecting our drinking water. State law specifically directs the Health Department to enact rules that require existing underground storage tanks be upgraded to prevent releases of petroleum into the environment. Their current regulations, however, do not ensure underground storage tanks are properly upgraded.

This suit comes after the Health Department continued to overlook the sense of urgency in mandating repairs to aging underground storage tanks. The Sierra Club previously delivered official notice to the Health Department that their regulations on underground storage tanks fail to comply with a 1992 state statute in May. 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.” This requirement applies to all tanks storing hazardous material underground, including the U.S. Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

Lawsuit Timeline

May 24, 2017  |  Sierra Club delivers official notice to the Hawaiʻi Department of Health

June 23, 2017  |  Department of Health responds to petition disagreeing with the Sierra Club’s reasoning for initiating an urgent rulemaking process

August 17, 2017  |  Sierra Club files suit against the Hawaiʻi Department of Health

September 5, 2017  |  Hawaiʻi Department of Health files a motion to dismiss

September 19, 2017  |  Sierra Club files response to Department of Health’s motion to dismiss

September 22, 2017  |  Hawaiʻi Department of Health replies to Sierra Club’s response

September 27, 2017  |  Hearing on the Department of Health’s motion to dismiss

December 2017  |  Judge Crabtree denies Department of Health’s motion to dismiss, lawsuit proceeds and court will evaluate state oversight of Red Hill Fuel Tanks

January 8, 2018  |  Sierra Club files motion for summary judgement

February 21, 2018  |  Hearing on Sierra Club’s motion for summary judgement

February 21, 2018  |  Judge Crabtree rules in favor of Sierra Club’s motion. Court finds that the state’s exemption of the Navy’s Red Hill fuel tanks violate state law

Press Coverage

Additional Resources