Navy to comply with emergency order on leaking Pearl Harbor fuel tanks

The Navy will comply with an emergency order to empty the tanks at a fuel storage facility following a leak in November. 

The Hawaii Department of Health finalized the order last week to empty the underground tanks at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The Navy had 30 days to appeal the order, which was first handed down on Dec 6.

Rear Adm. Blake Converse, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness on Tuesday that the Navy will comply with the order.

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“Yes, we are in receipt of the emergency order issued by the Hawaii Department of Health, and we are taking action because it is a lawful order to comply with,” Converse said.

Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Samuel Paparo issued directives last Friday to begin efforts to comply with the order, Converse said, adding that the Navy began complying with “many facets” of the order earlier through directives from the secretary of the Navy.

Converse said he didn’t have information on whether the Navy will contest the order later.

The Navy's decision to comply with the order was first reported by The Washington Post.

The Red Hill facility sits directly above a ground aquifer that serves as the principal source of drinking water for the island of Oahu.

In late November, a release of about 14,000 gallons of fuel from the storage tanks caused one of the military’s water shafts to be contaminated.

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The Navy suspended operations on Dec. 7 at the facility while it investigated the leak but had been fighting the state’s order, arguing that its own plan was sufficient.

The service was ordered to submit a plan to safely defuel the tanks at the facility and install water treatment systems on the contaminated shaft.

In late December, a Hawaii official overseeing hearings regarding Red Hill recommended the state’s emergency order be upheld, referring to the World War II-era facility as a “ticking time bomb.” 

“The weight of the evidence establishes that the Red Hill Facility, as currently situated, is a metaphorical ticking time bomb located 100 feet above the most important aquifer on Hawaii’s most populous island,” David Hill wrote at the time.

— Updated at 11:02 a.m.