After months of planning, military begins ‘risky’ effort to defuel Red Hill tanks

Board of Water Supply Manager and Chief Engineer Ernie Lau predicted catastrophe nine years ago.
Published: Oct. 16, 2023 at 5:22 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 16, 2023 at 6:09 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Almost two years after the Red Hill tainted water crisis, the military on Monday kicked off a massive effort to drain the underground fuel storage tanks.

The historic operation will take out roughly 104 million gallons of fuel.

On Monday alone, more than 181,000 gallons were drained.

With a capacity to carry 11 million gallons of fuel, the Empire State tanker will take fuel drained from Red Hill to Island Energy Services in Kapolei. The Torm Thunder tanker will take fuel to the Philippines. Both tankers could be seen docked in Pearl Harbor.

Board of Water Supply Manager and Chief Engineer Ernie Lau, who has called for the Red Hill facility to be drained for years, reflected on the significance of the project.

Special Section: Navy Water Crisis

“I am confident, but I won’t rest easy until it’s actually accomplished,” he added.

Lau says the scale of the 20 underground tanks at Red Hill is enormous.

“I was picturing in my mind if you took that massive oil tanker, stood it on it end so it’s standing upright vertically and put it deep underground at Red Hill, you’d have a concept of each of those tanks,” said Lau.

“I don’t know if they’ve ever in the operational facility moved that much fuel. I know it is extremely risky,” he added.

Both the military and the state have sought to reassure the public that safeguards are in place. “We have double and triple security measures in place with a lot of extra personnel there, a lot of monitoring because we don’t want to spill one drop,” said Gov. Josh Green.

Kathleen Hicks, deputy Secretary of Defense, said in a statement: “Beginning the defueling process earlier than initially planned is a testament to the Department’s commitment to safeguarding the aquifer and protecting the health of the people in Hawaii.”

Former Pearl Harbor resident Jamie Simic called Monday a somber day.

He said families like hers still deal with lingering health impacts of drinking tainted water.

“I never thought I would see this day. I’m grateful that it is happening, but there are things I have pause for concern with,” she said.

Defueling is scheduled to last until until January.