The Department of Defense (DOD) announced the closure of Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage facility in Hawaii on March 7, 2022. Red Hill plays a critical support role in expeditionary and power projection operations in the United States Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) area of responsibility (AOR).
Red Hill Controversy
The United States Navy (USN) temporarily halted Red Hill operations in November and December of 2021 following the discovery of a major fuel leak that impacted water supplies for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) and the surrounding community. Publicly available health data shows that uniformed personnel and civilians in the area suffered from nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, and skin-issues in abnormally high numbers. Hawaii's Department of Health (DOH) issued a warning in December 2021 to all residents in the area to cease use of water systems overseen by the Department of the Navy (DON).
The DOD announced the closure despite indications it would fight attempts by the State of Hawaii to force the closure of Red Hill. It appears the department has been planning this action for over a month, as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin outlined a closure process in a memo distributed to all American Combatant Commands (COCOMs) on March 7.
According to the memo, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) will take a central role in de-fueling Red Hill and relocating fuel to installations across the INDOPACOM AOR. DLA will work in conjunction with Hawaii's Department of Health, the Navy Department, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure the process is safe and meets state and federal standards. Secretary Austin expects de-fueling operations to be complete no later than March 2023.
Impact of Closure
Criticism of Secretary Austin's decision centers around how Red Hill's closure may negatively impact expeditionary and power projection capabilities in the INDOPACOM AOR. Capable of holding nearly 250 million gallons of fuel, Red Hill ensured the United States had a forward positioned fuel reserve capable of sustaining naval and air operations in times of war. Given the Navy and Merchant Marine's shrinking capability to transport cargo and fuel, detractors of the closure fear that the loss of a forward positioned fuel storage facility would make the conduct of naval and air operations in a contested environment nearly impossible.