ANCHORAGE - An oil pipeline company plans to resume shipments from its terminal near the base of an Alaskan volcano that has sent hot boulders, huge ice chunks and mud flowing toward the terminal on several occasions since becoming active again in March.
Delaware-based Cook Inlet Pipeline Co. hopes to load the first tanker and resume operations by mid-August. The plan, which needs regulatory approval, is to bypass Drift River Terminal's mostly empty tanks and deliver oil directly to tankers through an underground pipeline.
But company officials said the resumption depends on the status of Mount Redoubt, which has quieted recently.
The terminal, which is owned by Cook Inlet Pipeline and Union Oil Company of California, a Chevron Corp. company, is surrounded by a concrete-reinforced dike that has kept it from being seriously damaged since Mount Redoubt became active. The facility is 22 miles from the volcano and about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage.
In March when the volcano began exploding, two tanks at the terminal contained 6.2 million gallons of crude. Most of that has been removed.
The 42-mile pipeline will undergo some modifications so that it will bypass the terminal tanks and deliver directly to tankers, Cook Inlet Pipeline spokesman Santana Gonzalez said.
The initial delivery should be about 90,000 barrels, and moving that oil to market will allow Chevron-owned oil platforms in Cook Inlet to return to production, he said.
Last spring's shutdown of the terminal created a ripple effect. Two storage facilities upstream quickly reached capacity, and that forced the shutdown on April 4 of 10 of Chevron's platforms.
Prior to production being stopped, the platforms produced approximately 7,500 barrels of oil a day.
Chevron expects two shipments of oil a month will be sent from Drift River, but the flow of oil could be less than before the shutdown, company spokeswoman Roxanne Sinz said.
Mount Redoubt began erupting March 22, but it's last significant explosion was on April 4 when the crater's lava dome was mostly destroyed. Since then, the volcano has been in a dome-building phase in which lava repeatedly has pushed up out of the crater and cooled.
"Our biggest concern is that someday gravity will decide to pull that down," said Celso Reyes, a geophysicist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, which continues to closely monitor the volcano.