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Pacific edition, Friday, September 28, 2007

KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — Rice paddies stretch from a chain link fence at the edge of this base to a village of single-story, blue- and red-roofed houses in the distance.

Inside the fence sit massive tanks, storing all the jet, diesel and motor fuel needed to operate this F-16 installation on the Yellow Sea.

A fuel spill here could devastate farmers’ rice crops, as well as seep into the water table.

“I think probably more here than at most bases, you can see what the environmental impact will be and how it will affect people,” said Master Sgt. Thomas Kydd of the 8th Logistics Readiness Squadron. “You can look out over the fields, and you can see what it’s going to do.”

Kunsan has taken a number of steps to keep fuel from spilling, starting with the location of its fuel storage area, located at one of the highest points on base. That puts it as far as possible from the water table and at the farthest spot from a potential seaside attack.

“We are essentially standing on the water table, just a few feet above the water,” Kydd said.

A pipeline that carries fuel from a shipping port to base is double walled so it can contain leaks, and is pressure tested yearly.

The storage area must meet both U.S. and South Korean environmental regulations and standards.

A computer monitoring system lets workers at the fuel storage areas view the interior of the tanks at any time.

In August, Kunsan began using two new oil-water separators designed to catch spilling fuel before it could flow off base. The separators, which hold 3,000 gallons and 5,000 gallons of fluid, cost $380,000 and have an underground concrete trench to catch fuel before it could seep outside the base.

The last major oil spill at Kunsan happened in February 2003, when an isolation valve failed, and 20,000 gallons of fuel leaked near the flight line. The fuel was contained, and there was no environmental damage, Kydd said.

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