Friday, February 22, 2013

A Large Refueling Station: Craney Island Fuel Depot


Craney Island as it looked in 1930

This is a 1949 aerial image of the U.S. Naval Fuel Depot at Craney Island.  Still in use today, Craney Island serves as the Navy's primary fuel storage and distribution point for ships docked at Naval Station Norfolk.  At the time of the picture, fuel entered the depot through a combination of interstate pipelines that reached all the way to the oil fields of Texas and frequent arrivals of Virginia railroad tanker cars.  The picture shows the Navy's pre-World War II expansion of the depot.

The Navy acquired the property in 1918 as part of its expansion efforts for World War I (of which the construction of Naval Operating Base Hampton Roads/Naval Station Norfolk was the primary project).  At the time of the property's acquisition, the island looked no different than when the British launched their ill-fated assault on the island's defenses in June 1813.  Upon acquiring the island, the Navy and Army Corps of Engineers "reclaimed" hundreds of acres and expanded the island into a major fuel facility. The Navy constructed twenty tanks, each capable of holding 2,100,000 gallons of fuel (or one fill-up of an Iowa-class battleship).  It also built a pipeline underneath the Elizabeth River to fuel thirsty warships at the base.

 
With the Navy's major draw down in the 1920s and early 1930s, far less fuel was needed and many of the tanks went unused.  Seeing the surplus tanks, the Philadelphia-based Publicker Alcohol Company, nominally a mass producer of whisky, acquired a few of them to store molasses in 1930.   At the time, the company imported millions of gallons of  molasses from Cuba with its fleet of thirteen tankers to manufacture industrial alcohol. 

With the election of the pro-Navy Franklin Roosevelt as President, the Navy began to rebuild its fleet and the demand for fuel skyrocketed.  In 1938, the Navy bought the storage tanks back from Publicker, cleaned them up, and began to use them again as fuel storage. Today Craney Island is the Navy's primary fuel depot for Atlantic-based ships.  The facility stores F-76 military diesel and JP-5 jet fuel.  According to the Navy Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP), the depot can store over 35 million gallons of diesel fuel and 38 millions gallons of JP-5.

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