Chevron stops production: Redoubt curbs oil output in Cook Inlet

Posted: Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sixty percent of the oil formerly being held in two tanks at the Drift River Terminal, an oil storage facility at the foot of Mount Redoubt, has been removed.

Photo By Dante Petri
Photo By Dante Petri
Chevron's Monopod platform is shown in this March 24 photo. Chevron has "shut in" all if its 10 offshore platforms in Cook Inlet, according to Roxanne Sinz, spokesperson for Chevron.

Approximately 20,000 barrels, or 840,000 gallons, of salt water from the inlet was flushed back into the tanks to keep them stabilized in the event that the tank farm is hit with a flood.

This comes from officials representing the Unified Command, a body consisting of members of the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, the Coast Guard and Cook Inlet Pipe Line Co, the operator of the facility.

On March 22., when Redoubt began its current eruption series, 148,000 barrels, or 6.3 million gallons of Cook Inlet crude, was being stored in two storage tanks at the facility.

On Sunday evening, roughly 88,800 barrels of oil were transferred from the facility to the Seabulk Arctic, a transport tanker.

The vessel was scheduled to depart the terminal on Monday afternoon and deliver the product to the Kenai Peninsula.

Cpt. Mark Hamilton of the Coast Guard said the remaining oil was left in place is largely made up of sludge found at the bottom of storage tanks and could damage the tanker or the transport equipment used to move the oil to tankers.

This weekend, the Arctic Seabulk arrived on scene, however an eruption Saturday morning temporarily stymied the transfer of oil from the holding tanks to the vessel.

The Drift River facility was initially placed in jeopardy on March 23 when a lahar, or volcanic mudflow, created when heat from the first eruptions melted a portion of the Drift Glacier, lett loose a massive flash flood that headed down the Drift Valley toward the facility situated at the river's mouth.

Reinforced dikes built up around the tanks after a similar event caused minor flooding in Redoubt's 1989-1990 eruption held back the wall of mud and debris. Part of the facility was inundated however, including a hangar and a runway.

Rod Ficken, vice president of CIPL, said the company is now in the process of securing the terminal.

He said on Monday that the facility is essentially being winterized, with water being drained from the potable water system, perishable food items being removed, infrastructure getting closed up and certain areas being sandbagged for added protection against the possibility of future flooding.

The shut down at Drift River has left two other crude storage facilities on the west side, Granite Point and Trading Bay, also operated by CIPL, unable to accommodate any more oil.

As a result, Chevron has "shut in" all 10 of its offshore platforms in Cook Inlet.

"Basically we don't have a way of getting our west side oil to market with out using Cook Inlet Pipe Line," said Roxanne Sinz, a spokesperson for Chevron in Anchorage.

The shutdown may persist until the mountain quiets down too.

"CIPL and its upstream customers are working with state officials to consider the impacts of temporarily suspending production," said Gary Folley of the DEC, the state's on scene coordinator.

Both Sinz and Ficken were unclear how much the suspension of operations of their respective companies would cost them.

Ficken said crews will be kept at the facilities for the time being.

"It's going to impact the way we do business," he said of the present volcanic conditions. "We will still utilize personnel to do some work and take care of the facilities."

Sinz said Chevron was still evaluating what it would do, and that crews were still being kept on the platforms.

"We're currently assessing the impact this event will have on operations but no final decisions have been made at this time," she said.

Other producers in the inlet, including XTO energy and Marathon, reported that production at their facilities will continue uninterrupted.

According to Scott Griffith, production superintendent at XTO, the company's two inlet platforms deliver product directly to the peninsula.

Redoubt downgraded

Redoubt was downgraded from aviation color code "red" and alert level "warning" to code "orange" and level "watch" Monday.

Margaret Mangan, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey speaking on behalf of the Alaska Volcano Observatory, said the volcano remains in a "transient" and unpredictable stage.

She said sticky lava is being pumped out by the mountain and dome building is presently occurring in the summit crater.

Additionally she noted that overflights this weekend revealed that there is still ice in the crater, meaning lahars could occur during future eruptions.

"The potential for lahars still exists, and for ash deposition or secondary ashfall where local winds bring up ash that's already fallen," she said.

She explained that the mountain is in a "transient" stage where its activity is hard to predict. It's possible that in the future, the volcano may quiet down and erupt on a basis that is easier for staff at AVO to forecast.

When or if that will happen is unknown, she said.

Until then, she said, "I do caution that further explosions may occur with little or no warning."

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com



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