New York Times: Bakken Crude, Rolling Through Albany

adminOil transport on the Hudson

New York Times: ALBANY — On a clear December morning two years ago, a 600-foot oceangoing oil tanker called the Stena Primorsk left the Port of Albany on its maiden voyage down the Hudson River laden with 279,000 barrels of crude oil. It quickly ran aground on a sandbar.

The incident attracted little attention at the time. The ship’s outer hull was breached, but a second hull prevented a spill. Still, the interrupted voyage just 12 miles south of the port signaled a remarkable turnaround for the state’s capital.

 With little fanfare, this sleepy port has been quietly transformed into a major hub for oil shipments by trains from North Dakota and a key supplier to refiners on the East Coast.
 Hidden in plain sight, Albany’s oil boom has taken local officials and residents by surprise. Many became aware of the dangers of oil trains after a recent series of derailments and explosions, including one that killed 47 people in Quebec last July, which have generated concerns about growing rail traffic into the city. Trains rumble through the heart of Albany every day and often idle along the busy Interstate 787 highway while waiting to get into the port’s rail yards.
 “This has caught everyone off guard,” said Roger Downs, a conservation director at the Sierra Club in Albany.

About 75 percent of Bakken oil production travels by rail and as much as 400,000 barrels a day heads to the East Coast, said Trisha Curtis, an analyst at the Energy Policy Research Foundation. Albany gets 20 to 25 percent of the Bakken’s rail exports, according to various analyst estimates.

“Albany has become a big hub,” Ms. Curtis said.

But opposition is starting to form over new plans by one energy company to expand operations here and, possibly, ship crude extracted from the oil sands of Canada into Albany. The company, Global Partners, which pioneered the use of Albany as a crude-oil hub, is also looking at shipping oil from a terminal in New Windsor, just north of West Point.

The rapid growth in the oil-by-rail business is raising alarms. Railroads carried more than 400,000 carloads of crude oil last year, up from 9,500 in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads. Federal regulators have been under pressure to address the industry’s safety and recently outlined a series of voluntary steps, including slowing oil trains in some major urban areas.  Read more.


Crude on the Hudson: NYS must act now to prevent a disaster


NRDC: The future health of the Hudson River depends heavily on decisions that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation must make soon. That may sound like the-sky-is-falling overstatement, but it’s not. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo seems pretty worried, too.

On January 28, Cuomo recognized the seriousness of at least part of this issue with an executive order calling for a group of state agencies, including DEC, to study shipments of crude oil in the state and report back to him by April 30. He directed them to make recommendations on how New York can both coordinate better with federal agencies and improve its own ability “to prevent and respond to accidents involving the transportation of crude oil and other petroleum products by rail, ship, and barge.”

This executive order did not come out of the blue. The governor was reacting to a series of catastrophic oil accidents. Right at the top of the document, he cited two of them. One took place last July 26, when a train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Québec. The horrific result: fire and explosion causing 47 deaths, the destruction of the community, and mass evacuations. Then, on December 30, a derailment in Casselton, ND, spilled more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil, caused a fire, and forced more than 1,000 residents to evacuate.

Those accidents may seem remote, but rail-to-barge shipments of crude oil are arriving daily in the Port of Albany, destined for refineries in the Mid-Atlantic states. The trains are traveling both eastward, along the Mohawk River, and southward, from Canada, along Lake Champlain. At the Port of Albany, the rail cars transfer their volatile cargo to barges, which head down the Hudson.

Much of this oil originates in the Bakken formation in North Dakota. Two things are worth noting about Bakken oil: first, as the governor pointed out in his executive order, “Bakken crude oil has a lower flashpoint and is therefore more prone to ignite during a rail accident.” Second, as he also acknowledged, the production of Bakken oil is increasing. That crude, the governor said, “due to lack of pipeline capacity, must be transported by rail.”

That is where DEC’s role becomes crucial. In November 2012, the agency approved an application by Global Companies LLC to change its existing permit and double the storage and loading capacity for Bakken oil at the Port of Albany. And that’s not doubling a trivial amount.

“Within the past year, over one billion gallons of explosive Bakken crude oil has been shipped into the Port by rail; hundreds of crude oil rail cars are being stored just feet away from homes and playgrounds; and long lines of crude oil rail cars routinely stretch for miles along Route 787 through the heart of downtown Albany,” said a January 30 letter to DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens, which NRDC endorsed. “All of this has occurred without the thorough environmental review required by state law, and without any attempt to engage the residential communities that are bearing the brunt of this unprecedented industrial activity as required by the Department’s Environmental Justice Policy.”

That policy grew out of concerns in the late 1990s that DEC’s permitting process was not taking into account disproportionate environmental impacts on low-income and minority communities—and wasn’t doing enough to hear the voices of these communities. As an agency, the DEC now has a clear policy on environmental justice.  Read more.


Riverkeeper: Crude Oil Transport

RiverkeeperNews, Riverkeeper

Riverkeeper: With very little public awareness and no study of environmental impacts, the oil industry has made the Hudson Valley into one arm of a dangerous “virtual pipeline” for crude oil that snakes thousands of miles by rail, barge and ship from oil fields in North Dakota, Canada and elsewhere, to refineries on both coasts.

The New York State segment of this “virtual pipeline” primarily moves a particularly volatile crude oil by rail from the Bakken shale formation of North Dakota and nearby states and provinces, where oil production has doubled in three years, to the Port of Albany. There, billions of gallons of crude oil can be offloaded onto barges and ships destined for East Coast refineries. Additional trains loaded with crude oil destined for refineries to the south continue along the west side of the Hudson River, through communities in Greene, Ulster, Orange and Rockland counties. Some of these trains carry Canadian tar sands crude bitumen, and there are proposals that would facilitate the shipment of heavy crudes like this by barge as well.

The potential human and environmental impacts of this “virtual pipeline” are anything but virtual. The Hudson River, its tributaries and every community along the river or the freight rail line are at risk from spills and fires.  Read more.


New Crude Oil Shipments on the Hudson – via Tanker, Barge & Train

RiverkeeperOil transport on the Hudson, Riverkeeper

Riverkeeper:  In the last 12 months, a new industry has started on the Hudson River, as shipments of crude oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota have arrived by rail in Albany, for shipment by rail and barge to refineries in New Jersey and the east coast, and by tanker as far away as New Brunswick, Canada.

These shipments are something new to the river—we’ve never had this type of oil transported on the Hudson before.

A crude oil barge departing Albany, southbound on the Hudson River, on October 21, 2013.

Riverkeeper’s job is to look out for the river, and right now, we’re working cooperatively with state and federal agencies to determine the consequences of a crude oil spill, to assess regional response capabilities, and ensure that we have the equipment, manpower and knowhow in place from Albany to New York Harbor to protect the river and riverfront communities from a worst-case spill scenario.

Before these new shipments of Dakota crude oil began last year, the river has of course been a conduit for petroleum products, including heating oil, gasoline, ethanol and diesel fuel. Compared to a spill of these refined products, crude oil would have different and probably greater environmental impacts, and require different equipment and response capabilities.

Currently, oil spill response assets are most concentrated in New York Harbor. That’s because a spill there would shut down commerce—an expensive proposition. We want to make sure the Hudson River ecosystem and Hudson Valley communities are given the same high consideration and protection.  Read more.