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Hilcorp should find safer oil storage location

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: May 30, 2012 - 8:42am

I've been watching oil and gas corporations in Cook Inlet for the past 16 years, and few things surprise me. But now Hilcorp Corporation wants to resume storing oil at the base of an active volcano on the west side of Cook Inlet.

Hilcorp is the third largest privately-held oil and gas company in the nation ("privately held" means you cannot see their books). Last year, Hilcorp bought from Chevron the major oil and gas production facilities in Cook Inlet, including facilities at Trading Bay and Drift River.

At Trading Bay, Hilcorp uses a "shower head" to disperse over 2 billion gallons of toxic oily waste into Cook Inlet fisheries and beluga whale habitat each year. In other regions, industry reinjects toxic wastes back into the formation. But it's cheaper to embrace the idea that "dilution is the solution to pollution." So Hilcorp uses Cook Inlet fisheries as its private dumping ground. Hilcorp's rationale? It cannot afford not to pollute.

When the third largest private oil and gas company in the U.S. says it cannot afford to properly treat its wastes, you have to wonder how all those smaller companies in the Gulf of Mexico do it.

But the real eye-opener occurs at the Drift River Oil Terminal. There, Hilcorp gathers oil from upstream production facilities, and ships it by tanker, usually to the Tesoro refinery in Nikiski.

In one of the worst planning decisions ever made, industry sited the Drift River Terminal at the base of an active volcano, Mount Redoubt. In 1989, when the Exxon Valdez consumed the nation's attention, Mt. Redoubt blew ferociously. Volcanic flows inundated the facility, threatening prized fisheries with tens of millions of gallons of oil. 

Mt. Redoubt lay mostly dormant until late 2008, when alert levels rose. Chevron refused to reveal how much oil it had at the facility, hiding behind "Homeland Security." And it made no effort to move the oil to reduce the risks to Cook Inlet fisheries. 

March 22, 2009. Mt. Redoubt explodes. Volcanic flows swarm the facility and Chevron finally announces six million gallons of crude remain perched above Cook Inlet fisheries. Chevron had little capacity to implement its oil spill contingency plan because it evacuated the facility. Furthermore, because industry refused to consider a volcanic eruption in its worst case spill scenario, its response capacity was roughly 4 million gallons. That left 2 million gallons of unaccounted oil hanging in the spill response ether.

Industry finally removed most of the oil, but not before putting workers in harm's way by sending them into an active volcano zone. It then "tight-lined" the facility, to pipeline oil around the tanks and avoid the need for storage at Drift River.

But tight-lining requires more tanker trips, and tankers cost money. So to maximize its profits, Hilcorp now wants to re-open the Drift River Terminal. Yes, despite two catastrophic events, Hilcorp wants to store oil at the base of an active volcano.

Hilcorp recently called the 2009 Mt. Redoubt eruption a "non-incident," because huge oil tanks didn't get swept into Cook Inlet. That's like saying a twenty car pile-up is no big deal because no one died.

One of Hilcorp's self-proclaimed "core values" is: Integrity -- Do the Right Thing. If Hilcorp has any corporate values at all, it won't resume oil storage at the base of an active volcano, and will instead build a safer and more efficient pipeline across Cook Inlet.

So, walk your talk, Hilcorp. Do the right thing. Alaska and the world are watching.
Bob Shavelson is Advocacy Director for Cook Inletkeeper, a nonprofit organization formed in 1995 to protect Cook Inlet fisheries and the local families and economies that rely on them.

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akmscott 05/30/12 - 08:02 pm
There are too many people who

There are too many people who would not be happy no matter where it was stored.Really-does it matter?

Norseman 05/30/12 - 08:52 pm
Common sense dictates that

Common sense dictates that this is a pea poor place for an oil storage facility.

Well written article Bob.

msjinxie 05/31/12 - 05:22 am

Pretty funny DR has been in operation longer than The author. When are we going to be more "Glass half empty, instead of half full"? Be happy that this Co. sees a future in Kenai's Cook Inlet! Keep up the good work guys. This place has been at the foot of Mt Redoubt for years. even through the horrible late 80's explosions and up. survived just fine then and it will continue. Safer new ways of doing things, along with rebuilding and adding modern things to make it safe. Be happy they havent given up on us!

highriskphoto 05/31/12 - 07:49 am
What are they thinking?

It becomes readily apparent that this is the pinnacle of outrageous behavior of a giant corporation when I take a half step back and think about the oil containment vessels at the base of an active volcano.
Anyone with commonsense, when asked if they would want tens of millions of gallons of oil to be stored by an active volcano of course, would say no. Yet the irony is when you look a bit closer it causes grave concern when this facility had the stamp of approval by the very agencies of which we are to be protected by the very agencies that were supposed to stop this kind of insanity, How can one begin to explain approval of such a potentially devastating facility at the base of an active volcano? It makes no sense and it never will. It tells me that a complete overhaul of the people, process and the entities which gives that kind of approval is nothing short of fraud. To see the kind of deception, it is filled to the gills with corrupt people. Tell the people on the outside that we, as Alaskans, fully approved putting tens of millions of gallons of oil storage facilities at the base of the active volcano and listen to the laughter. I don't wish to be labeled a fool and I don't think any of you do. The first time I heard about this kind of behavior the only word that came to my mind was stupidity and a number of people are on the take... and if this is such a bombproof design then why the heck was the entire place evacuated? If it was safe why didn't everybody just stay ?

kksalm 06/01/12 - 09:49 pm
The opinions about Drift River define the author

It's safe! Think about the jobs! We should be thankful for some wonderful corporation for finally stepping up to the plate to energize our economy! You tree hugging salmon saving greenies are the problem with America!


There are so many things wrong with having an oil storage complex in the debris path of an active volcano.

Try explaining one side to the other. Good luck.
Have a nice day

soldotna 06/03/12 - 12:49 pm
Bite the Hand that feeds you much?

I read the article but by the second paragraph I had pretty much already made my mind up about the author.

"Hilcorp is the third largest privately-held oil and gas company in the nation ("privately held" means you cannot see their books)"

Really Bob you know before Hill Corp bought Chevrons workings in the Cook Inlet that they had a little over 550 employees. You also realize that NO Company *including Oil * private or not has to show their books publicly although some choose to.

Also you seem to know so much about Drift river. Please tell me how long as the storage facilities been at drift river? How many Major spills have been reported there? How many times Mt. Redoubt has going off since Drift River has been in operation. Also be honest and let everyone know its not the volcano going off that is a worry. More or less it's going be a tsunami that could be the issue if any at all. Hey also while your at it how much did Uncial, Chevron, and Hill Corp spend on Drift river to make "safe" for operations?

BTW Bob where does the Cook Inletkeepers get most of its money to Operate?

kksalm 06/03/12 - 02:53 pm
Author defined....

The previous author belongs in a specific category i recently commented on. I see no sense in Bob having to reply to any of the previous poster's comments. It's too basic, it's too much to try to talk the sense that's lacking.
If Mount Rainier was an active volcano and happened to erupt in the manner of Mount St. Helens, numerous cities would be in danger of destruction.
But some posters would question the funding of wiki (the messenger) I suppose.
Have a nice day

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