Environmental Law Program

Protecting Oʻahu’s Water (Red Hill Panel)

On April 11, 2017, the Environmental Law Program hosted a discussion on the fuel tanks at Red Hill and its impact on our fresh drinking water with some of the leading influencers in this movement towards a cleaner and safer community.

In 2014, the fuel tanks at Red Hill leaked thousands of gallons of jet fuel in 2014 and have leaked at least 30 times since their construction in 1943.  As of February 2018, the first circuit court has found that the state’s exemption of the Navy’s Red Hill fuel tanks violates state law.  Learn more about the Red Hill fuel tanks here.

Our panelists included:

  • Representative Linda Ichiyama
    • Represents 32nd house district (Moanalua, Salt Lake, Aliamanu)
  • Ernest Lau
    • Manager and chief engineer of Board of Water Supply, responsible for furthering a safe water supply
  • Gary Gill
    • State’s Deputy Health Director for the Environment when the Navy spilled almost 30,000 gallons of fuel at Red Hill.
  • Marti Townsend
    • Director of Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi

Representative Ichiyama started off the discussion by providing background on Red Hill, its Administrative Order on Consent process, status of the work so far, and what the legislature is doing to address the concerns surrounding the fuel tanks.  Ernest Lau then expanded on the Navy studies that detected traces of petroleum chemicals in the groundwater near the tanks.  The facility at Red Hill is over 75 years old, and it cannot be fully restored by merely patching holes on the walls of the tanks.  As Lau explained during this discussion, if the Navy wants to store fuel over the aquifer, then the tanks must not leak at all.  If the tanks cannot fully contain the fuel within, the tanks should be relocated.  As Lau described,

The BWS believes that the fuel stored at Red Hill should be moved to another location to eliminate the potential risk to Oahu’s groundwater. If Red Hill is to continue storing enormous volumes of fuel directly above our sole source aquifer, then BWS advocates the use of secondary containment tank-within-a tank design with interstitial monitoring as the most protective way to prevent releases to the environment.  The Sierra Club lawsuit underscores the BWS’ position that the storage of petroleum and other hazardous substances over our underground drinking water supplies should not occur unless such substances are stored in secondary containment systems that are regulated and continually upgraded.

Photo provided by Board of Water Supply

Photo provided by Board of Water Supply

As someone who worked with all the parties to frame, refine, and ultimately forge the Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) between the EPA, Hawaiʻi, and the Navy, Gary Gill shared his views on success and possible failures related to that legal process.  Namely, the unacceptable lengthy projected time in the AOC agreement, estimating 22 – 27 years to implement improvements, where the tanks will continue to rust and wear down in the meantime.  Gill also explained the role that the Department of Health plays in responding to such spills and overseeing their clean up.  Fuel storage tanks and drinking water standards are also regulated by the DOH and Mr. Gill shared how Hawaiʻi’s environment is protected by the Department.  Finally, Marti Townsend went over the first circuit court’s recent ruling in this case and the implications of the ruling (Judge Jeffrey Crabtree ruled in favor of the Sierra Club, finding that the state’s exemption of the Navy’s Red Hill fuel tanks violates state law, read more here).  As Townsend explained, a risk management approach towards the fuel tanks at Red Hill, such as what has been taken in this situation, does not ensure our right to clean water.  Rather, the approach should be one that is precautionary, to ensure the least amount of damage possible.  Mahalo nui loa to our passionate panelists that are helping to raise awareness to the threats to our island’s resources at Red Hill.

To sign the Sierra Club petition demanding that: (1) all field-constructed underground storage tanks and tank systems must be upgraded or replaced, (2) all tanks must be provided with secondary containment to prevent any future leaks, and (3) all leaked fuel is located and cleaned up: Click Here

A taping of the Red Hill Panel discussion can be viewed here.

April 15, 2018 — ats