It’s time for the U.S. military to retire the leaking Red Hill
Storage tanks—and protect our precious water supply
By Ann Wright
After the big North Korean missile scare in Hawaii a
year ago, one would think that missiles are the greatest
threat to the island of Oahu. Yet, it’s not missiles that are
the threat, it’s our own U.S. military and its massive jet
fuel storage tanks that are leaking into Oahu’s drinking
A complex of mammoth 20-story military jet fuel
storage tanks buried 20 stories down in a bluff called
Red Hill is perched only 100 feet above Honolulu’s water
supply. The walls on the 75-year-old jet fuel tanks are
now so thin that the edge of a dime is thicker. Each of the
20 tanks holds 12.5 million gallons of jet fuel, although
18 are in operation now. Two-hundred and twenty-five
million gallons of jet fuel are a mere 100 feet from
causing a catastrophic disaster for the island of Oahu.
Disaster struck in 2014, when 27,000 gallons of jet fuel
leaked from a tank that had been repaired with a welded
patch. The welding gave way and tens of thousands of
gallons of fuel leaked into the water supply. Studies have
documented leaks dating back to 1947, the continued
corrosion of the tank liners, and the risk of a catastrophic
Concerned citizens on the island have been trying
for decades to get the U.S. Navy remove the dangerous
tanks. The military states that the underground fuel tanks
are of strategic importance to national security and they
are being maintained as well as 75-year old tanks can
be. Yet those who live on Oahu say: “That’s not good
enough! You can’t have national security by jeopardizing
the health security of your citizens.”
It is not surprising that the Navy has made little effort
to remove the tanks and put replacements in a less
dangerous place. The military’s hold on the island of
Oahu and its politicians is strong both psychologically
and economically. Oahu is filled with military bases and
accompanying corporations that supply the military with
equipment and services.
Hawaii is one of the most militarized states in the
nation and Oahu is one of the most militarized islands
with seven major bases and a total of 36,620 military
When the 64,000 military family members and military
contractors are added to the active-duty military, the
military-industrial complex on Oahu numbers about
100,000, 10 percent of Oahu’s total population of 988,000.
The state of Hawaii has only 1.4 million citizens.
Construction of the military installations on the island
of Oahu began soon after the overthrow of the sovereign
nation of Hawaii by U.S. businessmen and a small
contingent of U.S. Marines:
• Pearl Harbor Naval Base, headquarters of the U.S.
Pacific Fleet Navy and homeport for 25 warships, 15
attack submarines, nine guided-missile destroyers, and
a guided-missile cruiser;
• Hickam Air Force Base, headquarters of the U.S.
Pacific Air Forces, with squadrons of F-15s, F22, C-17
and B-2 bombers;
• Kaneohe Marine Base, with a Marine Air Station
and three Marine regiments;
• Schofield Barracks, home to the 25th Infantry
• The Tropic Regions Test Center (TRTC);
• Camp Smith, headquarters of the United Indo-Pacific
Command (responsible for all U.S. military activity in
the greater Asia and Pacific region including India) and
headquarters of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific;
• Fort Shafter, headquarters for the U.S. Army Pacific;
• Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, a military
educational facility for military and civilian officials
from Asia and the Pacific;
• Tripler Army Medical Center and Veterans
Administration Medical Center;
• U.S. Coast Guard 14th District for the Pacific (while
not part of the Department of Defense, during wartime,
the Coast Guard can go under command of DOD), which
includes three 225-foot buoy tenders, four 110-foot
patrol boats, two 87-foot coastal patrol boats, four small
boat stations, two sector commands, an air station, a Far
East command, five detachments, and over 400 aids to
Major military installations have been built on other
islands of Hawaii. The Puhakaloa Training Area, the
largest U.S. military training area in the world with
133,000 acres for artillery, mortar, small arms and crew-
served weapons firing, is located on the Big Island of
Hawaii. Air Force bombers flying from the continental
United States drop ordnance on the area between the two
volcanoes of the island of Hawaii.
On the island of Kauai, the Pacific Missile Range
Facility Barking Sands (PMRF) is the world’s largest
range capable of supporting surface, submarines, aircraft,
and space operations simultaneously. PMRF has over
1,100 square miles of instrumented underwater range
and over 42,000 square miles of controlled airspace.
The Navy is currently using PMRF to test “hit to kill”
technology in which anti-ballistic missiles destroy their
targets by using only the kinetic energy from the force
of the collision. The Navy’s Aegis Ballistic Missile
Defense System and the Army’s Terminal High Altitude
Area Defense System, or THAAD, are tested on Kauai
On the island of Maui, the Maui High Performance
Computing Center, a Department of Defense Super
-computing Resource Center managed by the Air Force
Research Laboratory, provides DoD scientists and
engineers with one of the world’s largest computers to
solve war-making computational problems.
[And recently, the U.S. Navy announced plans to expand its ship-to-ship,
ship-to-shore, above water, below water, and on-shore trainings
throughout Hawaii state and Southern California. See my earlier blog
with excerpts from the published Navy plans].
According to the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce,
the direct and indirect economic impacts of military
expenditures in Hawaii bring $14.7 billion into
Hawaii’s economy, creating more than 102,000 jobs.
The military’s investments in Hawaii total $8.8 billion.
Military procurement contracts amount to about $2.3
billion annually, making it a prime source of contracting
opportunities for hundreds of Hawaii’s small businesses,
including significant military construction projects.
The influence of the military in the Hawaiian islands and
on its politicians at all levels cannot be underestimated,
nor can the protection the military is given by its retirees
and the citizens who benefit from it. The pressure on city
and state officials to accept the status quo is very strong.
Finally, the U.S. government has acknowledged the
medical problems the contamination of the drinking
supply caused in another community—the huge U.S.
Marine Base at Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air
Station (MCAS) New River in North Carolina. From
1953 through 1987, tens of thousands of Marines and
their families were contaminated by two on-base water
wells that were contaminated with trichloroethylene
(TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl
chloride, among other compounds from leaking storage
tanks on the base and and an off-base dry cleaner.
The Veterans Administration has acknowledged the
dangerous situation on the bases in North Carolina that
was ignored for decades. The VA has declared that a large
number of diseases are caused by the chemicals and that
military personnel and their family members who have
contracted these diseases and who are still living will be
compensated. We can expect the same type of diseases
with the continuing leaks at Red Hill.
On the other side of the country from North Carolina,
the Navy has already closed down one complex of
underground jet fuel storage tanks at Point Loma, Calif.,
which had 54 storage tanks. The riveted seams on the
underground tanks began leaking as they aged. When
1.5 million gallons of fuel spilled from the site in 2006,
the U.S. Navy decided to replace the tanks.
For us on Oahu, the bottom line is that when, not if,
the massive jet fuel storage tanks leak into the aquifer
of Honolulu, city, state, and federal officials must be
held accountable—the public has given them plenty of
warning of their concerns. As with lead in the water
supply in Flint, Mich., officials knew that the drinking
water was contaminated but didn’t do anything to stop
the community from using it. Remarkably, no Flint
officials have gone to jail yet, but the community is
demanding accountability for malfeasance in office—
which will also happen in Honolulu when the jet fuel
storage tank disaster strikes.
Why, we citizens ask our elected leaders, do they allow
such a disaster to continue to threaten our water supply
in Honolulu when we know that 75-year-old tanks with
corroding walls are continuing to leak . . . “
Please speak up.
Reprinted from: Peace in Our Times – <peaceinourtimes.org> V5N2—Spring 2019, p. 17.
Banner photo: https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/02/08/north-korean-missiles-are-not-threat-hawaii-its-our-own-us-militarys-leaking-jet