Our Responsibility

June 4, 2018

W. M. Keck Observatory takes its responsibility for good stewardship of Maunakea very seriously. That’s why we are deeply committed to full transparency for our staff and our community as we work to understand how, why, and to what extent a small amount of oil has been seeping from our hydraulic system onto the pier that supports the Keck I telescope at our Maunakea facility.

We confirmed the presence of what we assume is hydraulic oil in the cinder directly beneath the telescope on June 4, 2018, and immediately reported it to the Hawaii Department of Health. We are cooperating fully with all appropriate authorities, including the Department of Health, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Office of Maunakea Management. And we have launched our own investigation, which will be overseen by independent environmental consultants Masa Fujioka and Associates.

We will post updates to this page as our investigation proceeds and our response plan is formulated. We are ready to answer any questions you may have, so please contact Mari-Ela Chock at mchock@keck.hawaii.edu.

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Facility drawing with details of Keck I pier design.

Close-up of pier wall with drywall removed. White absorbent pads to capture any seeping oil are visible at the bottom of the frame.

Pier wall with drywall removed. White absorbent pads and blue absorbent mats to capture any seeping oil are visible at the bottom of the frame.


July 17, 2018

Since the formation of our internal investigation task force in May, conducting a rigorous exploration of possible releases of hydraulic oil to the environment from our hydrostatic bearing systems (HBS) has been W. M. Keck Observatory’s top priority. 

Much progress has been made. 

On June 7, Masa Fujioka and Associates (MFA), a third-party environmental, geotechnical, and hydrogeological consulting and engineering firm that Keck Observatory hired, conducted a site reconnaissance, and we know now the full extent of the release at our facility.

The investigation revealed that the total release includes a small amount of seepage coming from an oil return line located a few feet away from the Keck II pier; this seepage was also immediately contained.

We will continue executing preventative measures for all seepage locations as we work with the Hawaii State Department of Health and the Office of Maunakea Management to determine next steps.

MFA continues to conduct its independent investigation and analysis, and we are providing them with additional data needed to complete their assessment. 

Following an initial consultation with HDOH, and with MFA’s guidance, MFA is preparing an Environmental Hazard Evaluation (EHE) and Environmental Hazard Management Plan (EHMP) on behalf of Keck Observatory, as required by HDOH HEER office’s Technical Guidance Manual.

We remain committed to working in accordance with HDOH and are giving this investigation the full attention it requires as the observatory’s top priority.


August 10, 2018

In order to give the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM) full visibility into our pier oil investigation, representatives of both organizations visited our summit facilities on Aug. 1 for an in-person site inspection.

The visit was thorough, giving the oversight agencies a chance to get a first-hand look at the seepage and containment measures in place to ensure no further hydraulic fluid can reach the ground.

Bob Masuda, DLNR’s First Deputy, spoke with reassurance that Keck Observatory’s ongoing efforts are on the right track. 

“We appreciate Keck’s openness and transparency in dealing with this technical issue,” said Masuda. “Personal inspection and on-site briefing provided clear comprehension of the issue and seepage remediation. Keck has and is doing things right, reporting directly in a timely manner, applying highly professional response, and dealing with things forthrightly.”

(Left to right) Erin Petrosian, Keck Observatory Environmental Health and Safety Officer (back-facing), Sam Lemmo, DLNR Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands Administrator, Rich Matsuda, Keck Observatory Chief of Operations (back-facing), Bob Masuda, DLNR First Deputy, Wallace Ishibashi, OMKM Senior Advisor/Cultural Officer, and Jessica Kirkpatrick, OMKM Resource Management Assistant, checking the progress made in containing the seepage on the Keck I pier wall.


September 20, 2018

On September 5, Representatives of the Hawaii State Department of Health (HDOH), Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office (HEER), and Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM) visited the summit to assess the situation and provide additional guidance and recommendations for preparation of the Environmental Hazard Evaluation (EHE) and Environmental Hazard Management plan (EHMP).

Elise Leroux of Masa Fujioka & Associates (MFA), who also joined the tour, summarized the overall findings, saying, “What we recommend is management in place. In other words, there’s really no need to take further action at this time, other than documenting what has happened: the release, what’s known about it, the location, potential hazards, and a simple environment hazard management plan.”

Interim containment of the hydraulic fluid remains in place to prevent further release into the environment. We are in the process of implementing permanent containment measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

The HDOH has requested additional information that would be helpful for a full understanding of the situation, including site and construction drawings.

(Left to right) Rich Matsuda, Keck Observatory Chief of Operations (back-facing), showing Iris van der Zander, HDOH Environmental Health Specialist/Remedial Project Manager, Roger Brewer, HDOH Senior Environmental Scientist, Lauren Cruz, HDOH Environmental Health Specialist/Remedial Project Manager, and Fritz Klasner, OMKM Natural Resource Program Manager, the Keck I isolation joint where sealant will be poured to permanently contain the seepage.


October 5, 2018

The release is now permanently contained. On Friday, September 28, Sakoda Construction, a general contractor based in Hilo hired by W. M. Keck Observatory, re-sealed the one-inch wide gap between the pier supporting the Keck I telescope and the building’s floor.

This gap was identified during the Observatory’s investigation as the pathway through which hydraulic fluid seeped out of the hydraulic bearing system and traveled to the ground below. Sakoda Construction applied a polysulfide liquid that hardens to a rubber-like consistency into the gap.

Prior to installation, Keck Observatory engineers tested the effectiveness of the sealant, which proved to be a successful barrier to the hydraulic fluid; it is the same kind of material used to seal swimming pools.

With the installation of the sealant, there is no longer a path for hydraulic fluid, or any other substances, to release into the environment.

Sakoda Construction permanently contained the release by applying an impermeable sealant to a narrow gap between the pier wall and the floor of the Keck I telescope dome.