- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Navy officials told Hawaii lawmakers that drinking water is safe around a fuel tank that sprang a leak in January.

Capt. Mike Williamson on Friday described the Navy’s efforts to locate and repair a petroleum leak in the tank at an underground facility built in the 1940s in Honolulu.

Navy officials said as much as 27,000 gallons of fuel may have leaked from the tanks. The 200-foot tall cylinders can hold more than 12 million gallons each.

The fuel is now outside its storage tank, but it has likely been absorbed by the thick concrete walls that surround the tank, Lt. Commander Angela Watson said.

“We have seen no indication that that product has moved beyond the vicinity of the tank,” Watson said.

Lawmakers pressed the Navy officials to explain why the leak wasn’t detected more quickly.

“Twenty-seven thousand gallons is a lot,” Sen. Majority Floor Leader Will Espero said. “Why wouldn’t one of the systems give some kind of indication that something is going on?”

Williamson said part of the problem was that at the time the leak was discovered, fuel was being transferred between tanks so the levels were changing.

“A tank in a static environment, where we lost fractions of an inch, would trigger us to take action right away … but during that dynamic period, you might expect there to be small deviation,” Williamson said.

Capt. Mark Wheeler, the Navy official in charge of the facility as commander of Fleet Logistics Center Pearl Harbor, said officials were finishing the process of refilling the tank when a discrepancy was measured.

The tank had been down during the past five years as part of routine maintenance, Wheeler said. The Navy is taking every prudent action it can to protect public safety, he added.

Wheeler and Williamson spoke during an informational hearing at the Hawaii Capitol.

The Navy is aware that there have been leaks from the Red Hill tanks in the past, but there are no indications of leaks in the past 20 years, Watson said. However, it has been difficult to determine exactly how much fuel has leaked in the past, she said.

Navy officials will learn more as the investigation continues, but they have to install lighting and make adjustments to get a better sense of what happened.

Further investigation will continue in mid- to late-April, Williamson said.


Bussewitz can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbussewitz

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