Mt. ReDoubt Update: Danger Not Over

There was a great and prolonged tension leading up to the April 4 eruption of Mt. ReDoubt. Over 6.2 million gallons of oil were poised precariously at the Drift River Oil Terminal threatening a major economic and ecological disaster as the eruption cycle of the volcano increased in magnitude. The significant eruption of April 4 resulted in a scurry of action resulting in the subsequent suspension of Cook Inlet Pipeline Company’s operations in Cook Inlet, and a partial drawing down of the oil at Chevron’s Drift River Oil Terminal. Like a magician’s sleight of hand, the action seemed to satiate the audience’s desire to witness a performance - any performance - and a silence has blanketed the auditorium. Only a few seem to question the ruse performed.

There is still 2.5 million gallons of oil at the Drift River Tank Farm, and the current eruption cycle of Mt. ReDoubt is not over, nor can future eruption cycles be accurately predicted or prevented. Many questions remain unanswered. Yet the audience is quiet - stupefied. The legerdemain of Big Oil has acted like an opiate, and the public has been left mum, because something has been done. Has that something been enough?

Chevron initially hid behind the Homeland Security Act, refusing to disclose the amount of oil at the terminal, or disclose their readiness plan for a volcanic eruption. To the contrary, tank volumes at Valdez are announced on a daily basis. All information with regard to the Drift River facility has been securely controlled throughout ReDoubt's current eruption cycle. Chevron has restricted employees from discussing the events at the facility with the media. The Coast Guard has restricted the air space over the terminal. Photographs of the facility obtained by the Alaska Volcano Observatory early on were not released until nearly a week after they were taken. Images of the tank farm from AVO have since ceased. The only images of current relevance are the ones obtained through NASA's imaging via satellite, and they do not provide any assurance.

Why is there a discrepancy in the confidentiality of data between Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound? How is it that the potential of a terrorist attack can be cited as a means to thwart the right of the public to have access to information of such great import, and in light of the fact that similar information is readily available at other locations? How is it that a potential terrorist attack is deemed a greater threat than an erupting volcano? Why is such secrecy allowed when a major economic and ecological threat endangers the environment and resources of an area? Why aren’t spill response plans made available to the public? What assurance is there that Chevron is prepared for an oil spill from a future volcanic disruption of the facilities at Drift River? Why is it that the public is denied access to pictures of the current conditions at the facility when so much is at stake?

Chevron has continuously insisted that a safe level of oil needs to be maintained at the Drift River facility to secure the tanks, and to keep them from being torn from their foundations in the event of flooding in the Drift River. Despite the use of water to ballast tanks being a common practice elsewhere, Chevron has maintained a position that water could not be used in this scenario. Chevron’s stance, and the water use option fact sheet initially issued by the Unified Command were both later refuted, and water was eventually used as ballast to secure the tanks.

Why weren’t the tanks ballasted with water earlier, and why has 2.5 million gallons of oil been left in the tanks when water alone as ballast would be a safer alternative? What is the potential threat of a 2.5 million gallon oil spill in Cook Inlet? Why is the facility even being maintained in such a dangerous location?

Many questions remain unanswered in light of the stratagem of deceptions employed by Big Oil. The danger is not over.

- photo of activity at Mt. ReDoubt's summit by Chris Waythomas AVO/USGS