75 schools within one mile of tracks carrying volatile crude oil

Legislative Gazette | August 11, 2014 | Column by Richard Moody

Lawmakers looking for ways to make residents safer

	 Assemblyman John McDonald, left, and Assemblywoman Pat Fay, both represent schools in the Capital Region that are located near tracks that carry crude oil from Canada to the Port of Albany. The lawmakers are exploring what options the state has to protect residents from accidents such as spills and explosions that have occurred in other states and in Quebec. Photo by photo by Richard Moody.

Two environmental health organizations released a map last week showing 75 schools in upstate New York located within 1 mile of train tracks used to transport crude oil through the state.

Rail transport of crude oil has attracted significant attention from environmental groups and politicians following several accidents, the worst of which was a derailment in Quebec last July that kills 47 people.

A major concern of environmental groups, elected officials and concerned citizens is the increasing number of trains carrying highly volatile Bakken crude oil from the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota through New York via the Canadian Pacific Rail Line in eastern new York state.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Emergency Response Guidebook recommends an evacuation zone of 800 meters or half a mile for accidents involving railcars containing flammable liquids and gases, and an isolation zone of 1600 meters or 1 mile for such cars if they catch fire. 

According to the Healthy Schools Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council, there are 35 schools in New York located within a half-mile radius of the tracks used to transport crude oil through the state.

Some of the closest schools include schools in the city of Watervliet — for example, Watervliet Elementary School is .07 miles from the tracks. Lake Shore Christian School in Plattsburgh is also .07 miles from the tracks. Both Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk middle and high schools are .10 miles from the tracks.

"As the former president of the Albany School Board, and as an Assembly member representing several schools and neighborhoods that could be impacted should an oil train disaster occur, I am deeply concerned," said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, D-Albany, said. "We must do all we can to protect our children, our neighbors and ourselves. I will continue to work with my colleagues to find the best ways to make sure the oil trains passing through our community become the safest possible."

A proposal before the state Department of Environmental Conservation to build a new oil processing facility at the Port of Albany has raised awareness of the potential dangers that could impact the local community and areas well beyond.

Fahy stressed the importance of reducing the state's dependency on crude oil as a long-term solution to the problem.

Schools in Fahy's district include: Giffen Memorial Elementary School which is just one-fifth of a mile from the tracks; North Albany Academy which is the same distance from the tracks; and Arbor Hill Elementary School which is less than half a mile from the tracks.

Last month the U.S. DOT announced it will be phasing out cars often used to transport volatile crude, which the agency has deemed inadequately protected from punctures or gas build-ups. Many elected officials have put pressure on the federal government to take swift action to protect state residents from potential disasters.

According to Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes, the state only has jurisdiction when the oil touches the ground: in other words, during clean up and evacuations. He said the federal government needs to do more.

"At the state level we continue to advocate and work with government partners, particularly at the federal level where most jurisdictional oversight is, to ensure the safest rail transport processes are in place to protect not only those proximal to the rail lines but also those in the community and those who might be called to respond in case of an emergency," McDonald said.

Schools in McDonald's district include the Watervliet schools.

According to the Healthy Schools Network and the NRDC, there are new proposals on the

table to ship tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada into the Port of Albany.

"Gov. Andrew Cuomo has appropriately applied pressure on federal agencies to significantly strengthen regulations," said Roger Downs, conservation director of the Sierra Club's Atlantic Chapter. "But that does not mean New York should abdicate responsibility where the state has clear jurisdiction to regulate unsafe activities, especially with so many vulnerable populations in the pathway of potential catastrophe."



Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction

@PAUSEnergy tweeted this page. 2014-08-18 17:41:17 -0400
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.