US military shortens schedule for draining Hawaii’s fuel tanks

HONOLULU — The U.S. military said Wednesday it now expects to clean up fuel from a leaking fuel tank farm in Hawaii in July 2024, five months earlier than originally planned.

Critics have slammed the US Department of Defense’s initial timeline to remove fuel from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility by December 2024, saying the tanks posed a threat to Oahu‘s water supply and needed to be emptied sooner.

The state Department of Health then ordered the fuel removed Jet fuel poured from the plant into a drinking water well in November, poisoning thousands of people in and around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

The health department, which regulates underground fuel tanks in Hawaii, said it was reviewing the new plan.

“We are focused on making sure defueling is done as quickly and safely as possible,” Kathleen Ho, the state’s assistant director of environmental health, said in a statement. “Every day there is an ongoing threat to our aquifer and residents as fuel remains in Red Hill’s tanks.”

The military said in a press release that it pushed back the expected completion date after determining some actions could be done in parallel. It has also cut the actual defueling time from eight to five months. They are committed to “defueling Red Hill safely while consolidating and accelerating work at every opportunity.”

US Senator Brian Schatz said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin must quickly appoint a commander for a joint task force responsible for tank defuelling.

“The closure of Red Hill cannot be delayed. While the updated plan to close the facility earlier is a step in the right direction, DOD must make it a priority to act quickly and permanently close Red Hill as soon as possible,” Schatz said in a statement.

The tanks can hold 250 million gallons (1.1 billion liters) of fuel, and they’re currently less than half full. Officials said 13 of the 20 tanks contain fuel, two are permanently closed and five are being repaired.

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