Agencies doing well to prevent Drift River disaster

Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009

We'd like to thank the Unified Command, a joint orgnization made up of officials fromt he U.S. Coast Guard, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Cook Inlet Pipeline Co., and scientists from the Alaska Volcano Observatory for their recent visit to Kenai to share information and field questions about the situation at the Drift River Terminal, an oil storage facility on the west side of Cook Inlet.

The Drift River Terminal has been a focus of concern since Mount Redoubt began erupting last month. The facility is located at the mouth of the Drift River Valley, and is in the path of flooding caused by volcanic lahars.

We found the Unified Command's presentation to be both informative and reassuring as officials detailed the steps taken to prevent an oil spill at the 42-year-old facility, and to contain a spill should the worst happen.

Certainly, an oil spill has the potential to harm Cook Inlet fisheries. Such a disaster would be devastating to the Kenai Peninsula, where commercial and sport fishing drive the economy.

Oil and gas exploration also are a huge component of the peninsula economy, and extraction and transportation of oil comes with a certain amount of risk -- particularly in an area with the potential for natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and yes, volcanoes.

The risk at the Drift River Terminal has been mitigated to the extent possible. The dike engineered to hold back a flash flood has done its job, and by all accounts remains intact and functioning.

In addition the the dike, Cook Inlet Pipeline Co., which operates the facility for Chevron, has taken steps to contain a spill, should one occur.

Clearly, the agencies involved are doing everything they can to prevent anything approaching the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Indeed, Drew Sparlin, president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, said the Unified Command had addressed some of his concerns.

"I thought they were very forthcoming with the best information they had," Sparlin said of the presentation. "We all know that Mother Nature will have its way, and I'm confident that there's people here that are concerned."

We don't want to see any oil spilled into Cook Inlet. We encourage producers to constantly evaluate the safety procedures in place and make changes as appropriate, but we're confident appropriate steps are being taken to prevent a worst-case scenario.

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