Maybe in retrospect it wasn't such a great idea: storing six million gallons of crude oil next to a major waterway, just a few miles downstream from an active volcano with a recent history of explosive violence. But that's just what the oil industry has done in the state of Alaska. The Chevron-operated Drift River Terminal, a battery of crude-oil storage tanks, sits on the western shore of Cook Inlet about 100 miles south of Anchorage, at the mouth of the Drift River. Location is everything -- the terminal has a cranky neighbor just 25 miles upstream: Mount Redoubt Volcano awoke on March 22 from a geologically brief 18-year slumber, with a series of explosive blasts that sent ash towering into the sky and chaotic flows of ash, mud, ice chunks and boulders streaming down the Drift River valley (see photos of debris flows at the terminal, taken on March 23).
Check out SkyTruth's gallery of images, showing the relative locations of Redoubt and the terminal, and outlining the likely path for debris-flows cascading down the volcano's flank and following the Drift River channel to Cook Inlet. So far, several flows have reached the terminal, but there are not reports yet of any significant damage. With 6 million gallons of crude on board, let's hope the terminal can withstand this onslaught - it's likely that Redoubt will continue to erupt violently for months, as it last did in 1989-1990. The Cook Inletkeeper has additional resources here including a letter to the Department of Homeland Security requesting that they remove the oil from the storage facility.
Yesterday at about 9:30am (eastern time) I was on the phone with Bret Higman who lives in Seldovia, a town about 80 miles south of Redoubt, when he suddenly gave a shout - "Whoa, the volcano is erupting." Hig grabbed several pics of the event, which sent ash 65,000 feet into the sky and more debris flows down the Drift River toward the oil terminal.
UPDATE 4/15/09: NASA's Advanced Land Imager captured a stunning view of erupting Mount Redoubt with a long plume of airborne ash streaming to the southeast across Cook Inlet. The image also clearly shows multiple lahars that have flowed down the Drift River valley and around the oil terminal, with some reaching Cook Inlet. We've created two posters from this image (11"x15" at 200dpi) - an overview showing the volcano and the terminal, and a cloesup detail view of the terminal.
UPDATE 9/15/09: In response to a comment, it's not 20/20 hindsight to say this terminal is located in a high-risk area, since the last major eruption in 1990 generated a mudflow that overtopped the berm and entered the storage tank facility. That was a clear warning shot from Mother Nature. We've decided to ignore it and carry on as usual. If I made my living as a fisherman in Cook Inlet, I'd be pretty concerned about that.