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Massive oil spill found in Hawaii

21 September 2015

Hawaii News Now has obtained records issued by the US Navy that estimate a subsurface oil plume beneath a tank farm at the Pearl Harbor naval base on Oahu now contains more than 5 million gallons  (almost 16,000 metric tonnes) of oil products. For decades, leaks from fuel tanks and “other sources” have been collecting in the soil near the base's Halawa gate.

Historic image of Peal Harbor tank farm - Image: US Government
Historic image of Peal Harbor tank farm - Image: US Government

The plume lies under a maze of utility lines, making access extremely difficult. Estimates for the cleanup costs run in the tens of millions of dollars.

One of the leaks is well documented. In 2007, a tank at the base lost nearly 360,000 gallons of diesel fuel.The Navy deployed oil containment booms and dug more than a dozen monitoring wells and collection trenches. None of the diesel reached the shoreline.

The Pearl Harbor plume is mostly bunker fuel, which is a heavy, tar-like substance that is used by ships. It also contains jet fuel and diesel. Because bunker fuel is so heavy, the Hawaii State Health Department does not think the oil is moving and so will not seep into the water anytime soon.

Oil is also leaking from vessels sunk in the 1941 Japanese attack on the base. The battleship USS Arizona alone contains an estimated 500,000 gallons of bunker fuel which is slowly being released into the surrounding water.

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