Pentagon Transfers Authority Of Red Hill To Navy To Ensure Its Safe Closure

By David Vergun

The Defense Department announced Thursday that Joint Task Force-Red Hill has completed its defueling mission at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility on Oahu, Hawaii, and shifted command and control of the facility to the Navy to complete the task of its safe closure.

Defueling involves removing fuel from the facility’s fuel pipelines, an operation known as unpacking. 

In November 2021, residents of Oahu, Hawaii, faced a crisis when fuel spills at Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility contaminated the Navy’s drinking water system. 

“Today I am pleased to announce that the Navy has assumed command and control of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement yesterday. 

Navy Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and commander of Navy Closure Task Force, will have overall responsibility for the final steps to ensure the continued safe closure of Red Hill, Austin said. 

“I’m grateful to [Navy] Vice Adm. John F.G. Wade, commander of the joint task force, for his leadership and his work with the Hawaii Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and our community partners in Hawaii to complete the department’s prompt and safe defueling of Red Hill earlier this month. 

Members of Joint Task Force Red Hill are transferring authority for the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility to the newly-established Navy Closure Task Force – Red Hill. The facility was drained of over 100 million gallons of fuel and transitioned into closure and long-term environmental remediation.

“The Department of Defense and the United States Navy remain deeply committed to protecting the public’s health and preserving the environment. [Navy] Rear Adm. Barnett is determined to close Red Hill safely, and I’ve directed him to continue to communicate with our personnel and the people of Hawaii candidly, frequently and transparently,” Austin said. 

Wade provided remarks regarding the transfer of the Red Hill fuel storage facility to the Navy during a ceremony at the Battleship Missouri Memorial in Oahu yesterday. 

The removal of the majority of fuel, 104 million gallons, from above the aquifer, occurred on an accelerated timeline and took a whole-of-government team approach, Wade said. 

“Adm. Barnett and his closure task force understand the enormity and importance of their mission to safely and expeditiously close and decommission the facility, ensure clean water and conduct the necessary long-term environmental remediation,” Wade said. 

“My sincere hope is that the removal of the majority of fuel from above the aquifer helps us all collectively to move forward and continue the healing process,” he said. 

Some of the milestones include: 

  • On March 7, 2022, Austin, after close consultation with senior civilian and military leaders, directed the defueling and permanent closure of the Red Hill facility, as well as the standup of the joint task force. 
  • Last fall, the secretary directed a conditions-based transition of command and control from the joint task force to the Navy Closure Task Force, with the Navy assuming responsibility for Red Hill upon completion of the defueling mission. 
  • On March 4, the Joint Task Force completed its gravity defueling mission, and a significant number of its personnel have been reassigned to serve on the Navy Closure Task Force to retain institutional knowledge and to ensure continuity of mission for safety, security and community engagement. The Navy has provided the remaining personnel. 

The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment will maintain a senior steering group on Red Hill to provide oversight and offer support to the Navy.