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Research Questions

  1. What are potential alternative uses of the RHBFSF site?
  2. What criteria could assess potential reuse alternatives?
  3. What are the results of a cost-benefit analysis of the feasible alternative uses?

Since the 1940s, the U.S. Department of the Navy has owned and operated the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF), one of the largest bulk fuel storage sites in the world, located on Oahu, Hawaii. The site has been the source of public attention since three fuel releases occurred between 2014 and 2021. In 2021, the Secretary of Defense authorized the permanent closure of the facility, and Congress tasked the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Department of Defense to commission an independent study examining potential beneficial reuse alternatives for the RHBFSF site. This report is the direct result of, and fulfills, that requirement.

In consultation with the Navy, the authors assessed the five most-feasible alternatives for reusing the RHBFSF site: no beneficial reuse, energy storage using pumped hydropower, energy generation using renewable sources, water storage, and museum. The cost-benefit assessment used four key criteria: executability, economics, nonfinancial considerations, and robustness to uncertainty.

The bespoke nature of RHBFSF makes reconfiguration and reuse for almost anything other than liquid storage difficult to contemplate. There is uncertainty surrounding the timing of the availability of RHBFSF after closure, which would meaningfully affect the timeline for a reuse alternative. There are currently insufficient data to meaningfully compare the alternatives on equal terms without making significant assumptions. Therefore, the authors conclude that policymakers should strongly consider delaying any decision on alternatives reuses of RHBFSF until more information is available.

Key Findings

A course of action to not develop the facility for beneficial reuse scores well for all four criteria

  • This alternative is highly executable; is able to be effectively evaluated from an economic perspective; has potential environmental, cultural, and social benefits; and is robust to uncertainty.
  • Policymakers wishing to minimize the overall risk associated with reusing the RHBFSF site would be best served by this alternative.

Using RHBFSF for pumped hydropower energy storage scores high in terms of executability and robustness against uncertainty but low against economics and nonfinancial considerations

  • The economics of this alternative cannot be evaluated precisely, and it would likely have negative environmental, cultural, and social impact.
  • Policymakers who would like to minimize financial, environmental, or social risk would likely not choose this alternative.

Renewable energy generation scores very high for executability and robustness to uncertainty but low for economics and nonfinancial considerations

  • Policymakers who desire to limit the technical, regulatory, or environmental hurdles involved in implementing an alternative, as well as an alternative's vulnerability to future changes in policy, technology, or the environment, may view this alternative favorably.
  • Policymakers who give greater consideration to avoiding potential financial risk, environmental risk, or social risk would likely seek other alternatives.

Using RHBFSF for water storage scores high for robustness to uncertainty but low against the other three criteria

  • Unless policymakers consider robustness against future policy, technological, or environmental changes to be especially important, this alternative is unlikely to be beneficial, because significant uncertainty surrounds executability and economics, and there are potentially negative environmental and social impacts.

Turning RHBFSF into a museum performs well in the executability and robustness to uncertainty categories but low for economics and nonfinancial considerations

  • This alternative is likely undesirable for policymakers who place greater emphasis on minimizing potential financial, environmental perception, or social risk than on risks associated with implementation or future policy, technological, or environmental changes.

Recommendations

  • The best available data and evidence suggest that policymakers should delay any decision on alternative reuses of the RHBFSF for the foreseeable future.
  • The Navy will not be ready to do anything meaningful with RHBFSF beyond defueling and closure until 2027 at the earliest. Once environmental remediation begins, certain potential future scenarios can be ruled in or out. This will provide greater clarity for stakeholders about the status of the facility moving forward and determine whether or not 2027 is a realistic target.
  • Allowing the defueling and closure to advance toward their completion before deciding the disposition of RHBFSF has several benefits: additional studies can be conducted, all proposed reuse options can be refined, and the environmental site assessment and remediation planning can mature.

This research was sponsored by the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Installations and Logistics (N4), and conducted within the Navy and Marine Forces Program of the RAND National Security Research Division.

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