HONOLULU (KHON2) — On Thursday, the Hawaii Department of Health released the defueling plans for the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility and the Navy’s internal investigation.
“Human error” and a “culture of complacency.” Those are among the findings of two internal Navy investigations into what went wrong at Red Hill last year in two separate fuel spills.
Incidents in May and November 2021 preceded a massive water contamination crisis that affected tens of thousands on the military’s system on Oahu.
“We did not know of the errors in the May 6 spill until we learned of it on the Nov. 20 spill,” said Adm. Samuel J. Paparo, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. “Had we known of the errors on the May 6 spill, we would have had the chance to go into that fire suppression drain, empty it, and we might have avoided this entire crisis that we had.”
Initial and supplemental investigation reports made public today contain hundreds of pages.
The spill in May was tens of thousands of gallons larger than first thought and laid trapped in a fire suppression line for months.
Then in November, personnel driving a three-point-five-ton train struck a valve that released the trapped fuel which eventually tainted the water supply.
An admiral said a number of people remain under investigation for their roles in the incidents. He said outcomes could range from administrative counseling to internal discipline, to charge in accordance with the uniform code of military justice.
The results of those investigations were released on the same day the Navy is required to give the Department of Health its plan for how it will drain the Red Hill Fuel Storage Tanks. Which the DOH said it has received.
The plan said they can finish defueling the tanks by the end of 2024.
“We are releasing these documents in the interest of transparency,” said Deputy Director of Environmental Health Kathleen Ho. “Red Hill needs to be shut down as quickly as possible and we fully expect that the Navy will marshal all possible available resources to defuel and decommission the facility.
Under the plan, the Navy said it must first remove the fuel in the pipelines. That allows them to make repairs and install bypass lines at the fuel tanks.
The next phase involves critical infrastructure repairs, which the Navy said could take up to 17 months.
Once that’s done, contractors will be hired to do quality assurance inspections to prepare for the actual de-fueling.
The defueling plan includes moving the fuel using a commercial tanker or through a commercial pipeline and storing it at a contractor-owned facility.
The DOH requested that defueling be done within 30 days. But the Navy said it will take four to eight months.
DOH released a statement that said:
“Red Hill needs to be shut down as quickly as possible and we fully expect that the Navy will marshal all possible available resources to defuel and decommission the facility. However, with the extensive repairs needed and the Navy’s history of spills from unsafe pipelines, our first priority continues to be ensuring that all defueling activities are performed safely for the sake of the people and environment of Hawaii.”
To read the Navy’s command investigation, click here.
To read the Navy’s Red Hill defueling plan, click here.