Nikiski Terminal Dock, East Foreland

Nikiski Terminal Dock, East Foreland

by | Apr 4, 2022

Nikiski Terminal Wharf is part of the Port of Nikiski petroleum facility in upper Cook Inlet on the west coast of the Kenai Peninsula at East Foreland, about 63 miles (101 km) southwest of Anchorage and 10 miles (16 km) north-northwest of Kenai, Alaska. East Foreland is a prominent cape on the east shore of Cook Inlet named by Captain George Vancouver in 1794. The point of land may also have been named ‘Punta de Martinez’ by Don Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra in 1791. The area was the traditional territory of the Kenaitze band of Dena’ina Athabaskans who called it ‘Mikischkin’ meaning ‘cape’. The name ‘Nikiski’ is derived from a historical Dena’ina village and boat landing located south of the cape called Nikishka that was first reported in 1912 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Cook Inlet is a northeast-trending forearc basin about 200 miles (325 km) long and 60 miles (95 km) wide located between the Chugach and Kenai Mountains to the southeast and the Alaska Range and Aleutian volcanic arc to the northwest. Rocks of the Chugach and Kenai Mountains are part of a massive Mesozoic and Early Tertiary accretionary complex called the Chugach-Prince William terrane that represents much of the southern Alaska coast. Rocks of the Alaska Range are either igneous intrusive volcanic or plutonic rocks associated with the subducting Pacific Plate which is 31-37 miles (50-60 km) beneath the center of the Cook Inlet basin. Three major fault zones define the basin margins; the Castle Mountain fault to the north, the Bruin Bay fault to the northwest, and the Border Ranges fault along the southeast side. The Cook Inlet basin is a massive intermontane half-graben that was filled with more than 40,000 feet (12,195 m) of Mesozoic sediments and up to 30,000 feet (9,150 m) of Tertiary sediments. These sedimentary rocks were folded creating anticline traps that became petroleum reservoirs. Glaciers extensively sculpted the Cook Inlet landscape during the Pleistocene. During the major ice advances of the Late Wisconsin period, glaciers covered much of the upper Cook Inlet area with major flows from the west side of the basin onto the Kenai Peninsula and smaller glaciers flowing down Turnagain Arm and from the Kenai Mountains. The region was deglaciated about 10,000 years ago and humans began migrating to the area about 9,000 to 8,000 years ago.

Several different prehistorical maritime cultures inhabited the Kenai Peninsula from about 8,000 years ago until 1,000 AD. The Dena’ina represent a more recent migration, arriving in about 1157 AD from the interior, and these were the people who made contact with the first European explorers in the 18th century. Historically there were three different Dena’ina villages near the East Foreland of the Kenai Peninsula that were all called Nikishka by early settlers, reputedly named after three Dena’ina brothers. Nikishka No. 1, the Dena’ina village of Tukyektat, was situated south of East Foreland near the present-day Nikiski Terminal Wharf. Nikishka No. 2, the Dena’ina village of Titukilsk, was about 5 miles (8 km) northeast and just north of East Foreland on Nikishka Bay at the site of the present-day Arness Dock. Nikishka No. 3, the Dena’ina village of Kultuk, was located at the mouth of the Swanson River on Number Three Bay in present-day Captain Cook State Recreation Area. Sometime between 1880 and 1900 an epidemic greatly reduced the population and these villages were abandoned. In the 1940s, the coast was homesteaded and a community grew with the discovery of oil in the Swanson River oilfield in 1957. By 1964, oil-related industries were located at Nikiski to support offshore drilling in upper Cook Inlet and the area is now known primarily as a wharf and petroleum-handling facility. The three wharves are privately-owned. The northernmost wharf is the Nikiski Terminal Wharf, owned and operated by the Kenai Pipe Line Company and Marathon Petroleum Corporation which receives crude oil mostly from the Alaska North Slope and Cook Inlet and refines petroleum products such as gasoline, distillates, heavy fuel oil, asphalt, and propane. The refinery has a crude oil capacity of 68,000 barrels per day. Domestic oil shortages are mitigated by importing a limited volume from international sources. Two 14-inch (36 cm) pipelines connect the wharf to 18 steel storage tanks with a total capacity for two million barrels. This wharf and has about 1,310 feet (399 m) of berthing space with alongside depth of 42 feet (12.8 m). The middle wharf is known as the Kenai LNG Dock which facilitates exports of liquefied natural gas, distillates, fuel oils, and lube oil and grease. This wharf is connected to three steel storage tanks by a single 24-inch (61 cm) liquified natural gas pipeline and has 1,050 feet (320 m) of berthing space with alongside depth of 40 feet (12 m). The facility began operating in 1969 and for more than 40 years was the only liquified natural gas export terminal in North America but the plant has been idled since 2018 when Marathon Petroleum Corporation purchased the facility from ConocoPhillips. In 2020, Marathon was approved to convert the terminal from export to import operations. The southernmost wharf is owned by Agrium U.S. Inc. and is used for shipments of dry bulk urea and anhydrous ammonia refined from natural gas and used as fertilizers. The wharf is connected to two anhydrous ammonia storage tanks by a 12-inch (30 cm) connection to two 6-inch (15 cm) pipelines. The refinery was idled in 2007 and depending on the availability of natural gas, it may reopen in the future. Berthing distance at the wharf is about 1,135 feet (346 m) with an alongside depth of 45 feet (13.7 m).

On 2 February 2006, the tanker Seabulk Pride with a length of 574 feet (175 m) was moored and loading oil products at Nikiski Terminal Wharf during extremely heavy sea ice conditions when a massive ice floe struck the tanker with an impact that parted the mooring lines. Heavy vacuum gas oil and gasoline were the two products being loaded through two hoses. The tanker drifted northward with the tidal current and ran aground approximately 600 feet (183 m) north of the wharf. All motor operated valves were closed prior to the hoses parting minimizing the spillage of oil, however, approximately 84 gallons (382 l) of gasoline spilled into the waters of Cook Inlet, approximately 84 gallons (382 l) of heavy vacuum gas oil spilled onto the dock, and approximately 126 gallons (573 l) of heavy vacuum gas oil spilled onto the deck of the Seabulk Pride. Tug vessels were dispatched from Anchorage, Kachemak Bay, and Prince William Sound to assist with the re-floating of the tanker. The tanker was pulled free of the grounding location the next morning after removing ballast water from the double hull tanks. No additional oil was released while the vessel was aground. Under tug escort, the Seabulk Pride proceeded to Kachemak Bay where surveys were conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard. Two small cracks were found in the hull and repaired temporarily with a cement patch. The tanker departed Kachemak Bay on 8 February for Puget Sound, to offload cargo in Anacortes, Washington. On 9 January 2007, Seabulk Pride again had trouble at the same dock under extreme ice conditions. Subsequent to these two incidents, a tug was assigned to assist all tanker vessels at the hazardous port, which has a high tidal range and fast currents in addition to being subject to unpredictable heavy sea ice conditions. Read more here and here. Explore more of Nikiski and East Foreland here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

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