Killing Red Hill – Pacific Fleet Fueling Fiasco?

In World War II we had a large above ground tank farm for fuel in Pearl Harbor. Japan sunk the ships, but didn’t bother to bomb the fuel depot (a big mistake, BTW. They also didn’t bomb the repair facilities. Between those two errors, the USA was able to re-float many ships, fuel them up, and take the battle to Japan.)

Recognizing this risk, the USA built a giant below ground fuel storage depot in Hawaii. Red Hill Fuel Facility. There’s a Wiki on it (that complains at the top that it may have too much information for the Low Info Voters that Wiki appeals to… )

The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is a military fuel storage facility in Hawaii. Operated by the United States Navy, Red Hill supports U.S. military operations in the Pacific.

Proving that folks in the USA (Politicians & some Admirals & Generals, but I repeat myself…) can’t preserve old knowledge and can’t help but repeat the errors of the past:

As of March 7, 2022, the Department of Defense announced the planned closure of the Red Hill facility, due to reduced military need and water contamination issues.

So it had a bit of a leak, but rather than repair it, they plan to just trash the whole thing. The intent is to move to a more distributed fueling architecture. i.e. get fuel in places like Qatar or Indonesia and just tanker it over to wherever the battles might be.


How many Oilers do we have? What is the armament on them? How long would it take them to move the fuel? What happens if, say, Saudi Arabia were to just decline to increase the fuel production for our benefit? (Naw, that would never happen… /sarc;)

Unlike any other facility in the United States, the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility can store up to 250 million gallons of fuel.
It consists of 20 steel-lined underground storage tanks encased in concrete, and built into cavities that were mined inside of Red Hill. Each tank has a storage capacity of approximately 12.5 million gallons.

The Red Hill tanks are connected to three gravity-fed pipelines that run 2.5 miles inside a tunnel to fueling piers at Pearl Harbor. Each of the 20 tanks at Red Hill measures 100 feet in diameter and is 250 feet in height.

Red Hill is located under a volcanic mountain ridge near Honolulu. It was declared a Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1995.

Now wouldn’t it be nice if, say, a war broke out between China and Taiwan, and China were using their various missiles to sink any tankers / oilers trying to bring oil through the South China Sea from all those oil fields in the Middle East and Indonesia; if, just maybe, you could bring an oiler from Hawaii to your carrier battle group in the Pacific just the other side of Taiwan with all those air defenses in between you and China?

There’s a whole lot of detail about the 2 leaks and the food fight over them at the Wiki. Here’s two points. 1, the EPA spanks the Navy. 2, the Sierra Club does lawfare.:

Administrative Order on Consent

The Administrative Order on Consent is a binding legal agreement administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. The order mandates the corrective actions to be taken in the wake of an environmental violation. Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Hawaii Department of Health, U.S. Navy, and Defense Logistics Agency signed the order for Red Hill in September 2015. It acknowledges the shared responsibility to protect Oahu’s drinking water supply and maintain Red Hill as a strategically vital resource.
The Sierra Club of Hawaii launched a “Fix it up or shut it down” petition and has also demanded that the Hawaii Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Navy:

Install sufficient “sentinel” monitoring wells to guard public drinking water sources from possible contamination currently in the aquifer,
Locate the fuel that has already leaked from the storage facility and clean it up,
Install genuine leak prevention systems, not only leak detection systems, that will guarantee there will be no future leaks from this facility.
According to military contracting announcements, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam has contracted with two corporations to address environmental problems at Red Hill: AECOM has been in charge of investigating and remediating releases, as well as protecting and evaluating groundwater, while APTIM (known as CB&I prior to 2017) has been in charge cleaning, inspecting, and repairing fuel storage tanks.

So rather than fight this, and fix the facility, the Navy decided to just close it all down, and move to a system just like we had before Pearl Harbor, but without a fuel tank farm. Basically have a bunch of floating fuel tanks in ships that shuttle back and forth from places with refineries.

The problem I have with this is that now the potential opposition has satellite ship tracking and targeting along with missiles that can hit anywhere in the world. With ‘order of magnitude’ about a dozen oilers in the Pacific, just how hard would it be to sink them all in one quick strike?

Would that not be a very attractive option for, say, Russia or China? Suddenly all those advanced jet fighters on our nuclear aircraft carriers will be wondering where to get more fuel. The non-nuclear escort ships that protect them will be looking at “one fuel tank” worth of range, then they are dry. All the army trucks and tanks we might want to forward deploy will be looking a bit thirsty. All those cargo aircraft to haul everything around better be able to make it from North America to Theatre and return without a giant gas tank on Hawaii.

This video is from “What’s going on with Shipping?” and looks at the history and the coming problem in great detail. There are some surprising parallels that he shows between the oiler fleet at the start of W.W.II and our current fleet. He also shows how many were rapidly sunk with the very limited reach of weapons in the 1940s. It is my belief that the present level of tech would have them all sunk in short order (they do not have the defensive systems on major navy ships).

To me, this looks like a problem…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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4 Responses to Killing Red Hill – Pacific Fleet Fueling Fiasco?

  1. Pouncer says:

    But where is the fuel, that’s in those tanks now, going to go?

    Is this like the Strategic Petro Reserve — so the military’s fuel gets repurposed to the politician’s “get the votes” effort?

  2. Phil Younger says:

    From my years of involvement in fuel distribution i found that where the was fuel stored- there will be some contamination. Building a new facility means starting a new location(s) with new contamination- perhaps the high seas. Assuming the navy maintained the anodes or impressed current corrosion protection systems might be a stretch though since also in my experience- government is always the worst at complying with environmental laws- thus perhaps the steel is too far gone. All the same -a nice underground facility can mean lower temp fuel with far less moisture entrainment, biological growth in the fuel(fugus, yeasts, bacteria), less evaporation of light ends, etc–let alone risks of wartime losses one might get on ships.

  3. YMMV says:

    “nuclear aircraft carriers” and submarines. Nothing else.
    There used to be more.

    Lots of detail here:

    My guess? All ships are sitting ducks, so it doesn’t matter.

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