Nine sailors to face disciplinary actions for NAS Oceana jet fuel spill, admiral says

By: Peter Rathmell

Nine sailors from Navy Air Station Oceana will face disciplinary actions after allowing nearly 100,000 gallons of jet fuel to spill into the base and the local community, the Navy announced Friday.

U.S. Navy officials declined to offer any specifics into the punishments, citing privacy concerns, but did say that disciplinary actions could range from a simple referral or reassignment to a possible court martial.

The disciplinary actions stem from an incident on May 10 when a jet fuel switch was left in the wrong position for more than 16 hours, Rear Adm. Jack Scorby, the Navy’s Mid-Atlantic Region Commander, said in a press conference Friday morning. Fuel was pumped overnight from an 880,000-gallon tank into a 2,000-gallon tank, Scorby said. The smaller tank overflowed, causing about 94,000 gallons of JP-5 jet fuel to be displaced.

More than a quarter of the fuel escaped into surrounding neighborhoods. The spill went unnoticed until the next morning, at which point it was too late to stop. Clean-up efforts began the morning the spill was discovered and concluded last week, said Scorby.

The Navy has spent $3.8 million cleaning up the spill so far, though Scorby said this includes the cost of the lost fuel.

“We own this. It’s our responsibility to fix it. It’s our responsibility to hold our Navy personnel accountable,” said Scorby.

Along with announcing the disciplinary measures, Scorby also said the Navy is considering how to prevent another fuel spill from ever happening again, at Oceana or any other Naval installation.

Scorby said the the base will double the personnel on hand during fueling operations, as well as enact a policy that will require all fuel transfers to be done during the day. Also, he said that engineers have added several safety upgrades to the base’s jet fuel tanks, such as adding a spring-loaded drain valve that would automatically close the fuel tanks and an overflow-prevention valve that would shut off transfers to the 2,000-gallon tank once it is 95 percent full.

Although Navy officials say that the amount of jet fuel in the air never reached dangerous levels per national standards, 51 families decided to evacuate the area during the clean-up, according to the Virginian-Pilot. Many residents said that they experienced headaches and sore throats from the spill.

“The Navy has an equally important responsibility to be a good neighbor in the communities in which we operate,” said Scorby. “We take these responsibilities seriously and we hold people accountable for those who don’t.”

Seven of the nine sailors have already received their punishments. One civilian may face disciplinary actions as well.

Back to Top