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Eruptions at Alaska's Mt. Redoubt Threaten Oil Storage Tanks
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, March 26, 2009 (ENS) - A large eruption of the Mt. Redoubt volcano occurred at 9:24 this morning local time, shooting a plume of ash and gas 65,000 feet into the air, according to National Weather Service reports and the observations of aircraft pilots.

The eruption sent a mudflow down the Drift River valley that was detected by seismic instruments at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

An evacuated Chevron oil storage facility containing six million gallons of Cook Inlet crude is situated near the mouth of the Drift River where it empties into Cook Inlet. Official reports have not clarified whether or not the Drift River oil storage facility has sustained any damage.

Plume of ashy gas rises from the eruption of Mt. Redoubt. 9:50 am March 26, 2009. (Photo by Dennis Anderson courtesy Alaska Volcano Observatory)

There have been six eruptions of Mt. Redoubt since March 23, and ash has fallen in some communities in the Susitna Valley. There are no indications that the volcano is currently emitting ash, the obervatory said this afternoon, though explosive activity could resume with little or no warning.

Chevron had refused to divulge the volume of oil in tanks at the Drift River Terminal, citing Homeland Security Act concerns. But when Mt. Redoubt erupted Monday, under pressure from environmentalists, Chevron announced that more than six million gallons of oil remain at the tank farm. Reports late Monday revealed flooding and debris flows at the Drift River terminal.

Volcanic eruptions Wednesday night caused more melting of the Drift glacier and greatly increased discharge down the Drift River, the Alaska Volcano Observatory said today.

Cook Inletkeeper, a conservation group, is calling on Chevron and responsible state and federal agencies to draw down the oil stored at the base of the erupting volcano.

Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, said Tuesday, “Worker safety is paramount, and we need to ensure the oil can be removed in a safe and orderly fashion. But we never knew Chevron planned to keep six million gallons of crude at the base of an erupting volcano until yesterday, because Chevron kept hiding behind the façade of Homeland Security.”

The Drift River terminal sits immediately adjacent to Drift River, which experienced similar flooding that threatened the oil facility the last time Mt. Redoubt erupted in 1989-1990. The facility sits in the middle of Cook Inlet’s rich and highly productive sport and commercial fisheries.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates the value of commercial and sportcaught fish in Upper Cook Inlet at well over $1.5 billion in 2008.

“We depend on clean and healthy Cook Inlet fisheries to feed our families,” said Tom Evans, an Alaskan Native from the Village of Nanwalek in Lower Cook Inlet. “It makes no sense to store oil at the base of an erupting volcano.”

The left arrow on this satellite image points to Mt. Redoubt, the right image points to the Drift Valley oil terminal. (Image courtesy Cook Inletkeeper)

“My livelihood depends on fresh, healthy Cook Inlet salmon,” said Ben Jackinsky, a commercial setnet fisherman from Kasilof. “This is a replay from the last eruption in 1989, and Chevron and our state and federal agencies need to take steps now to protect our fisheries.”

Public agencies responsible for the safe and legal operation of the Drift River terminal include the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Seismic activity at the volcano, about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, is currently relatively low, AVO officials said this afternoon, and no activity is observed in partly cloudy web camera images.

Pilot reports and satellite images indicate that a steam plume is currently rising to at least 20,000 feet and drifting at least 40 miles to the northwest.

An ashfall advisory is in effect for the western Kenai Peninsula. High level ash, above 30,000 feet, is forecast to pass over Anchorage, but is not expected to produce ash fall.

The Federal Aviation Administration has restricted flights to relief aircraft operations under the direct control of the Air Route Traffic Control Center at and below 60,000 feet and 20 nautical miles. No other aircraft are authorized until further notice by the FAA.

While the Anchorage Airport remains open, Alaska Airlines has cancelled all flights in and out of Anchorage for the rest of the day, and other airlines have followed suit.

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

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