Redoubt, oil and corporations: a tale of volcanic mitigation (or lack thereof)

The Anchorage Daily News has an excellent article today on the Drift River Oil Terminal, a depository for oil collected from the platforms in the Cook Inlet. This oil terminal stores at least 1,000,o00 barrels of oil (see article for why we're not sure) and sits, well, at the base of Redoubt (see map below from Anchorage Daily News) on the floodplain of the Drift River (~25 miles from the vent). 

Now, this oil terminal was more-or-less destroyed during the last episode of volcanism at Redoubt twenty years ago when the terminal was wiped out by floods resulting from the eruptions. Not only did this cause the retrieval of the oil left at the terminal to be an immense problem, but it shut down production in the Inlet for 10 days ... and we all know what this kind of news does to gasoline prices.

You would think that after this event, Chevron (who owns the terminal) would have thought better of building there again because, well, not only is Redoubt a volcano, but it is a fairly active one at that. I mean, its not like (for arguments sake) building an oil terminal at the base of Mt. Jefferson in the Cascades, that hasn't erupted in a thousand of years. However, from what the ADN reports, Chevron has only: (1) possibly started to move oil away from the terminal since the ramping up of seismicity and (2) added a dike that "steer waters away from the facility if another monstrous flood occurs."

I wish we knew more about what is being down about the oil terminal, because it could be a great example of when volcanic mitigation is ignored ... or alternately, if Chevron is actually doing something about it, when it is paid attention. It doesn't take a team of experts to realize that the placement of the terminal in a flood plain at the base of an active volcano might not be the best location in the Inlet. Combine that with the fact that, although a flood took out the facility in 1990, there is no guarantee that other volcanic hazards with a little more "oomph" might not be able to reach the facility, dike or not. The Drift River Oil Terminal is one of those situations where a little forethought into its placement might save Chevron and the country a lot of hassle and worry.

As for the current state of Redoubt, as of noontime (Pacific) on 1/31/09, AVO reports "Seismicity remains relatively unchanged since 3:30 PM AKST yesterday afternoon. It is still well above background." The wait continues!

More like this

It doesn't take a team of experts, it just takes one person with common sense. That is obviously one person less than the team that dreamed this up.

Three distinct steam plumes visible on the webcam at this moment.

Accuracy counts.
- The Drift River Terminal does not sit at the base of Mt. Redoubt. It is about 25 miles away, at Drift River (hence the name).
- The terminal was not "more or less destroyed" twenty years ago. The loading rack (outside the secondary containment) was damaged, along with part of the loading dock at the mouth of Drift River. Not "wiped out".
- The transferring the oil in the tanks after the last eruption was not "an immense problem" because of damage to the terminal. The problem was finding enough tankers to carry the oil and places for them to go.
- The production in Cook Inlet was shut down as a preventative measure, because there were concerns about a second, larger eruption.
- The terminal was built where it is because of Cook Inlet geography. There are limited locations near the platforms where there is both enough available land for a tank farm and safe dockage for oil tankers.

Accuracy does count and thanks for some of those clarifications. I guess in my books, even at 25 miles, that is at the base of a volcano. 25 miles is nothing for most volcanic hazards in terms of distant covered. Although the geography might dictate it a "good" place to build a terminal, the geology is definitely in disagreement, both with its proximity to a major, active volcano and its position on the flood plain of a river. The fact that we even had to worry about what might happen to this terminal in the eruptions 20 years ago and the potential eruption today speaks volumes for its location in the Inlet.

It seems to me that in these economic times major corporations such as Chevron could go a long way toward building consumer confidence by better protecting our nation's assets. I am surprised and dismayed that they are not seizing this historic opportunity to "face the camera with their good side" by making a public statement about their intentions or plans to protect the terminal.

I do not trust the oil companies. As I see it we need to see to it that Chevron removes the oil from those storage tanks and never to store oil there near a volcano again. Didn't the Valdez fiasco teach the oil companies some valuable lessons. All oil storage and transportation in Alaska must be done with the utmost of care. Alaska's land, though, huge is quite fragile and must be protected at all costs.

Robert Dingas

By Robert Dingas (not verified) on 07 Apr 2009 #permalink