Red Hill ‘Repacking’ Leads to Pump Repair

by Braxton Taylor

About 360,000 gallons of fuel have been added to pipelines at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility as part of an ongoing “repacking ” process that will ultimately lead to the defueling of the facility’s jet fuel tanks.

Joint Task Force-Red Hill on Friday said it identified a needed repair during the repacking operation at an “Underground Pump House low point drain.” The pump, unlike the massive Red Hill storage tanks, is reportedly not located above an aquifer, and the task force said that the break “does not pose a threat to the environment, the aquifer or the community.”

Teams are conducting the repair, the task force said Friday.

While the repair was “un-forecasted, ” the task force said it anticipated the need for such repairs because of how long the pipelines have been dry.

The Joint Task Force-Red Hill, made up of 270 military and civilian personnel, on Friday provided an update on the repacking operation in which empty pipelines are filled with fuel to remove air, allowing for the gravity-based defueling of Red Hill’s underground storage tanks.

The task force is charged with removing 104 million gallons of aviation and marine fuels from the Navy’s controversial, underground World War II-era facility in Halawa. The repacking paves the way for defueling of the site’s main underground storage tanks to begin by Oct. 16. The task force has said defueling is scheduled for completion by Jan. 19.

The storage tanks are being emptied after roughly 14, 000 gallons of petroleum leaked out of the fuel storage facility and into drinking water that supplies Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and other military sites on West Oahu, detrimentally affecting hundreds of families.

The leak at the underground fuel facility in November 2021 affected thousands of residents, who reported fuel odors emanating from their tap water and symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, skin rashes, burns and headaches.

The task force said in June it had successfully completed all repairs and modifications to the facility that the state Department of Health said had to be performed to safely begin draining the tanks, which sit just 100 feet above a critical aquifer most of Hono ­lulu relies on for drinking water.

Repacking is a key part of moving fuel from the Red Hill storage facility to fuel points at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. It allows pressure to equalize in the pipelines and allows smooth flow of fuel when defueling takes place. It also provides additional verification of the pipeline’s integrity.

The multiday operation of the Red Hill fuel pipelines began Monday. Two pipelines at the storage facility are being used for defueling and are being filled in small increments using fuel from the storage facility’s upper tanks. A third pipeline was determined to be unnecessary for defueling and will remain empty.

Repacking operations are expected to finish this week.

Afterward, some 100, 000 to 400, 000 gallons of residual fuel will remain in the tanks, but there are plans to ensure that all of the fuel at Red Hill is removed.

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