On Monday, the U.S. military began draining jet fuel from 20 World War II-era storage tanks in Hawaiʻi, in a victory for Native Hawaiian activists and environmentalists who have, for years, warned of the risks the tanks pose to a critical source of drinking water on Oʻahu, the state’s most populated island.
The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility consists of 20 underground tanks, about 250 feet tall and 100 feet in diameter, filled with more than 100 million gallons of petroleum, along with a system of pipelines and tunnels. It will take three months to drain the tanks, a process that involves releasing the fuel down three miles of pipelines to a pier at Pearl Harbor where it will be loaded onto tankers. From there, some will be stored onsite or transferred to West Oʻahu. More fuel will be shipped to San Diego, the Philippines, and Singapore.
Officials say some fuel and sludge will remain after the draining is complete and will require a much longer cleanup.
Constructed more than 80 years ago, the Red Hill facility has long been the source of multiple fuel spills, but it wasn’t until recently that calls to shut down the facility gained traction: In November 2021, about 93,000 people were exposed to jet fuel-laced water.