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Oil Removed From Tank Farm Under Erupting Mt. Redoubt
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, April 6, 2009 (ENS) - After major eruptions Saturday and Sunday and continuing volcanic activity at Alaska's Mount Redoubt, the Unified Command, Drift River Terminal Coordination, has agreed to suspend Cook Inlet Pipe Line Company operations.

About 60 percent of the 6.2 million gallons of crude oil stored at the Chevron oil storage terminal on the Cook Inlet were removed to an oil tanker today, the company said in a statement. The oil was moved to prevent a potential spill from damage to the terminal that may be caused by the explosive eruptions of nearby Mt. Redoubt on the western side of the inlet.

During an eruption of Mt. Redoubt early Sunday, an ash cloud that reached 50,000 feet and a lahar, or volcanic mud flow, traveled down the Drift River Valley. Chevron's Cook Inlet Pipe Line Company storage terminal is located near where the Drift River empties into Cook Inlet. Oil producers operating in Cook Inlet use the Drift River terminal for storage and shipping.

Mt. Redoubt initially erupted on March 22 at 10:38 pm, followed by several other eruptions. The resultant lahars caused extensive flooding at the Drift River Terminal. However, no oil or hazardous substance releases have been reported at this time.

The Cook Inlet pipeline and terminal assets are owned by Cook Inlet Pipe Line Company, whose current owners are Union Oil Company of California, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chevron Corporation (50%), and Pacific Energy Resources (50%). Chevron operates 10 oil platforms in Cook Inlet. The company shut in two platforms last week, and stopped production at the rest of the platforms on Sunday afternoon.

"Cook Inlet Pipe Line Company will not accept oil shipments for storage or transport until Mt. Redoubt volcanic activity ceases," said Rod Ficken, vice president, Cook Inlet Pipeline Company, Unified Command. "Long term plans for Cook Inlet shipping are being evaluated.

Mt. Redoubt erupts on April 5, 2009, spewing volcanic rocks, ash and gases high into the air. (Photo courtesy Alaska Volcano Observatory)
Small earthquakes and intermittent tremors continue today at the volcano and in the surrounding area, according to scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. A larger regional earthquake occurred just after noon today 12 miles south-southeast of the Mt. Redoubt volcano.

"This remains a dynamic situation," said Capt. Mark Hamilton, federal on-scene coordinator, Unified Command. "Detailed planning is essential to minimize threats and maximize operational success."

The oil stored at Drift River terminal has been transferred to the tanker Seabulk Arctic. About 840,000 gallons (20,000 barrels) of water from Cook Inlet using the Seabulk Arctic is being pushed back into the two oil tanks in service to prevent them from becoming buoyant.

Eleven Cook Inlet Pipe Line Company employees remain at the facility. Once the transfers are complete, the employees will complete some housekeeping and security tasks around the facility before leaving.

Initial reports are that there has been no damage to the tank farm, containment berms or the protective dike.

Some water was seen flowing over the previously affected runway. Water did enter one of the industrial buildings and damaged a generator necessary for oil transfer operations but repairs have now been made.

Operations at the terminal will be temporarily suspended once today's transfer is complete until the volcano's eruptive cycle enters a period of continued calm.

Cook Inlet Pipe Line Company has not received any oil at the terminal since the day before Redoubt began its latest round of eruptions on March 22.

Ficken says the Cook Inlet Pipe Line has managed its tank crude inventory "to preserve the structural integrity of its storage tanks and to reduce environmental risk." Two of the seven tanks at the Drift River facility are in use at this time and each tank contains about 74,000 barrels of crude, he said.

The oil is protected by three levels of containment. The concrete armored berm installed after the 1989 eruptions of Mt. Redoubt is intact. The two tanks that hold the oil are located furthest from the existing lahars. A lahar generated March 23, 2009 is serving to deflect additional mud flows away from the facility to the south, according to the company.

Alaska Volcano Observatory overflights and photography have confirmed that a lava dome now is actively growing in the summit crater. Occasional avalanches of hot blocks tumbling from the dome are traveling a short distance down the north flank of the volcano.

Based on its past activity, the current Mt. Redoubt eruption is expected to continue for weeks to months. During this time, a cycle of relatively quiet periods of lava dome growth followed by explosive episodes of dome destruction will likely take place. Observatory scientists say future explosions pose an ongoing threat of lahars in the Drift River Valley, trace to minor ash fall throughout south-central Alaska, and ash-related impacts to aviation.

Unified Command, Drift River Terminal Coordination, will meet with Kenai Peninsula residents on Tuesday, April 7, to provide an update on the Drift River Oil Terminal event. The meeting begins at 6 pm at the Challenger Learning Center and will be hosted by Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council. Other participants include the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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