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Hundreds of Gallons of Diesel Spilled at Space Force Observatory Atop Hawaiian Volcano

Hundreds of Gallons of Diesel Spilled at Space Force Observatory Atop Hawaiian Volcano

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February 3, 2023
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Approximately 700 gallons of diesel fuel were spilled early this week at a Space Force observatory that sits atop a volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

A diesel fuel pump for a backup generator at the Maui Space Surveillance Complex — located on the 10,023-foot summit of Haleakalā — failed to shut off during the night of Jan. 29. The next morning, maintenance personnel discovered the device had kept running.

“There were no injuries, and the cause of the failure is under review,” Pacific Air Forces said in a Wednesday press release.

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The Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency have been notified of the spill, the service said in the press release.

“We understand the importance of being good stewards of the environment and will work with necessary state and federal officials as we begin clean-up efforts,” Brig. Gen. Anthony Mastalir, commander of U.S. Space Forces Indo-Pacific, said in the release.

The Maui Space Surveillance Complex has the Department of Defense’s largest optical telescope, which tracks satellites and other objects in outer space, according to the Space Force’s website. The complex is operated by the 15th Space Surveillance Squadron. Officials with the Department of the Air Force, which oversees the Space Force, are currently investigating the site “to begin remediation efforts,” according to the news release.

Local government officials voiced anger at the spill, including state Sen. Lynn DeCoite, who said in a statement posted to Facebook that she plans to hold agencies connected to the incident accountable.

“This 700-gallon fuel spill atop Haleakalā is completely unacceptable and very concerning for those who live and work near the summit,” DeCoite said. “Haleakalā plays a crucial role in the ecosystem of Maui Island, and any contamination of our water sources and natural resources could have devastating effects.”

Rose Riley, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Air Force, told Military.com that officials are communicating with the appropriate agencies regarding the incident. 

“As a military institution serving and operating in the community, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve the environment,” Riley said in an emailed statement Thursday. “We are focused on lessons learned to prevent any incidents like this from occurring in the future.”

News of the diesel spill comes as the military still works to rebuild trust in Hawaii following the massive 2021 fuel spill at the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Facility in Honolulu, which eventually contaminated water supplies in nearby communities.

The spill at Red Hill included 20,000 gallons of jet fuel, about 96% more than the reported diesel spill at the Space Force complex. It’s unclear what damage may be sustained to the environment or water of the nearby area from the diesel spill.

More than 93,000 people living in military housing on and around Pearl Harbor were affected by the massive jet fuel spill at Red Hill in May 2021. More than 5,000 gallons eventually seeped into the ground and tap water by that November.

The contamination forced thousands from their residences while others stayed, relying on bottled water to cook, clean and bathe. In 2022, the Pentagon announced that the World War II-era bulk fuel farm would be closed and drained.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from the Department of the Air Force.

— Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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