Sunday, April 19, 2009

Volcanic eruption could be catastrophic for fisheries

After days of quiet, Alaska's Mount Redoubt volcano roared back to life Saturday morning with a new eruption that pumped smoke and ash 50,000 feet into the atmosphere, the Alaska Volcano Observatory reports.

The eruption comes just after officials had given the go-ahead to remove millions of gallons of crude oil from an oil storage facility 20 miles downriver from the mountain.

There are concerns that the terminal, where more than 6 million gallons of oil is stored in two tanks, could be damaged and cause a catastrophic oil spill that would damage Cook Inlet's valuable fisheries.

Original plans called for the oil to be transferred Saturday from two large tanks to a tanker ship and leave nearly 1.7 million gallons in each tank. Some oil needs to remain in the tanks to prevent them from becoming buoyant and floating away if there was a flood, according to the Coast Guard and officials with the Cook Inlet Pipeline Co. The tanks now are each holding 3.1 million gallons.

It was not immediately clear how the morning's blast would affect those plans.

A flash flood warning was issued for the Drift River, which flows from the mountain and passes by the oil storage terminal.

Air traffic in and out of Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula was operating normally as of 8:30 a.m.

This morning's blast comes a day after the Alaska Volcano Observatory lowered the threat level from "warning" to "watch," after activity quieted.

Mount Redoubt began erupting on March 22. Since then, the volcano 100 miles southwest of Anchorage has produced numerous large explosions that have sent mud and rock cascading down its flanks. Some of that mud and debris has reached the Drift River Terminal, 22 miles away.

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