Sailor discharged after pleading guilty to Oceana fuel spill

Image courtesy of WAVY

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Navy has discharged a sailor who recently pleaded guilty to charges connected to a major fuel spill at Naval Air Station Oceana back in May.

The unnamed sailor received an other-than-honorable discharge and was separated from the Navy in lieu of court-martial, according to a release from the Navy’s Mid-Atlantic public affairs office.

Eight other sailors who were also responsible for the spill were not charged, but all were disciplined in the form of administrative and disciplinary actions.

The investigation into the incident cited multiple instances of human error, dereliction of duty and local oversight failure that led to the spill.

After a drain valve used to divert incoming fuel thought to contain water and other impurities was left open, a 2,000 gallon convault storage tank that’s supposed to collect the fuel was overwhelmed. When the tank hit capacity, thousands of gallons of jet fuel spewed out at a rate of 94 gallons per minute.

94,000 gallons of jet fuel in total spilled at Oceana over 16 and a half hours from May 10 to May 11.  Officials say 25,000 gallons of the fuel poured into nearby waterways.

The cleanup effort cost more than $3.8 million and dozens of people who lived nearby had to leave their homes.

“We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources the American public entrusts to us to defend the nation,” said Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, Rear Adm. Jack Scorby. “We take these responsibilities seriously and we hold people accountable when they don’t. We set high standards for our people and we won’t tolerate those who fall short of those standards.”

After the spill, the Navy overhauled its safety procedures and reviewed the procedures for how sailors are selected, trained and qualified for work in the fuels facility — which were found to be inconsistent, with watchstanders having various levels of understanding on how to check the fuel systems.

In fact, an assistance visit to Oceana from April 24-28, just prior to the spill, by Naval Supply Systems Command Global Logistics Support (NAVSUP GLS) revealed there was no evidence records were kept in the station’s bulk fuel office, and no guidelines or checklists for watchstanders to follow when on “pipeline patrol.”

With new guidelines added, the number of watchstander personnel conducting those patrols was doubled from 20 to 40.

Two-person teams, featuring one sailor and one civilian, also now patrol fueling operations on increased rounds.

For mechanical systems, engineers installed a spring loaded drain valve to automatically stop fuel flow when personnel release the drain valve lever, in addition to the existing manually set valve.

Perhaps most importantly, an overfill prevention valve was also installed in the system’s convault storage tank to cut off fuel flow when fuel levels reach 95 percent.

Read the Navy’s full investigation report here

“The Navy is committed to the continued monitoring and assessment until we are confident we’ve done everything we can,” Scorby said. “Getting this right and being transparent are important to us, because we live and work in the community as well. Naval Air Station Oceana and the surrounding community have been good neighbors for a long time. The Navy is committed to maintaining and regaining the community’s trust.”

The Navy says it’s scheduled to conduct follow-up environmental testing and monitoring of areas affected by the fuel spill later this month, to determine if any fuel remains in soil, groundwater sediment, or surface water in the affected areas.

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