JTF-Red Hill Turns Over Remaining Fuel Depot Closure Tasks to the Navy

March 29, 2024 1:18 PM
Personnel in support of Joint Task Force-Red Hill (JTF-RH) set up protective curtains prior to cutting into pipe lines at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF), Halawa, Hawaii, March 11, 2024. DoD Photo

Vice Adm. John Wade and the Joint Task Force – Red Hill transferred authority of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage to the Navy Closure Task Force – Red Hill, amidst continued concerns about water contamination and the lasting effects of the November 2021 fuel leak.

Joint Task Force – Red Hill was tasked with defueling the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, which the Department of Defense ordered to shut down in March 2022 following the November 2021 fuel leak, which led to jet fuel contaminating drinking water.

Now that the majority of fuel — minus 28,000 gallons of sludge and 4,000 gallons of residual fuel — has been removed, Wade will turn over authority to Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett, who will be dual-hatted as the commander of the Navy Closure Task Force – Red Hill and Navy Region Hawaii.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro praised the work of the joint task force during his remarks at the ceremony.

“Today, we are marking the transfer of authority of Red Hill, but, more importantly, we are pledging our continued, collective, commitment because there is still much work to be done,” Del Toro said in his remarks. “We recognize the deep ties that bind us to this beautiful land and its people, and we will continue building back the trust that is essential to us moving forward together.”

Navy Cloure Task Force – Red Hill will be responsible for removing the sludge and closing the facility. The Navy plans to use a closure-in-place method where the facility will be closed but leaves open the possibility the tanks could be used for non-fuel storage.

Wade, who lived in Hawaii during the Red Hill spill as the director of operations for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said he was tasked to defuel the facility and repair trust broken by the November 2021 spill.

Under Wade, the task force finished defueling approximately six months ahead of the initial timeline, ending on March 6. Overall, the task force removed 104,703,574 gallons of fuel from the facility.

“This problem set is huge,” Wade told USNI News in an interview on Tuesday. “It’s complex. It’s multi-dimensional, but the defueling was the most urgent threat because the fuel – over 100 million gallons sitting above the aquifer – pose a threat to human health and the environment.”

Throughout the process, Wade and the task force worked with regulators, including the Hawaii Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency, who often had to approve steps of the defueling process.

Defueuling was done in steps, with fuel removed first from pipelines before gravity defueling was used to remove the bulk of the fuel from tanks. The last process was the more active process of removing residual fuel.

While the joint task force says defueling is complete, members of the Ohua community feel differently, arguing that defueling will not be complete while sludge is still in the facility and they still deal with the ongoing effects of water contamination.

Healani Sonoda-Pale, who sits on the Community Representation Initiative as a Kānaka Maoli representative told USNI News the community still has to live with the effects of the water contamination not only from the 2021 spill but a separate spill in 2014. While Wade said one of his missions was to restore trust in the community, Sonoda-Pale said there was still a long way to go.

“They removed their poison,” Sonoda-Pale said.
“So now they’re going to come congratulate themselves, and that’s what is sickening in this whole situation.”

She pointed to residents who still see a sheen on their water, which the Navy cannot explain. Navy water samples have consistently tested positive for total petroleum hydrocarbons, with the Navy saying it could be false positives, according to a report in Civil Beat.


Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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