Big flap over a small oil spill

Times Union  |  Jordan Carleo-Evangelist  |  Sunday, June 29, 2014 (Updated 11:52 pm)

County officials furious that they weren't notified

An estimated 100 gallons of oil that spilled from a rail car at a transfer facility at the Port of Albany Sunday posed no danger to nearby residents or the environment, a port official said.

But county officials, who have imposed a moratorium on the growth of the oil infrastructure at the port amid safety concerns, said they were furious that they weren't notified of the incident — no matter how small.

The oil spilled from a rail car vent in a yard at the Global Partners terminal, where oil is transferred from inbound rail cars to tankers that send it down the Hudson River, port Manager Richard Hendrick said.

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Canadian Pacific railroad, said the incident did not involve a moving train and that only a small amount — five gallons or less — spilled onto the railroad's property.

The Global terminal has been the center of the local debate, fueled by the much larger national one, over the safety of the increasing amount of rail-borne oil moving through the port, much of which is originating in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

Global Partners' plans to expand its existing complex at the port have drawn opposition from South End neighborhood activists, who fear the risk of a derailment or explosion, and environmentalists who fear potentially catastrophic damage to the river.

"This just assures me that what I'm doing is right," said County Executive Dan McCoy, a former city firefighter whose administration in March issued a moratorium at least temporarily halting Global's expansion until the health and safety impacts can be studied. "We're not backing off."

The company's plans call for a heating plant to make it easier to transfer the oil from the rail cars.

Hendrick described Sunday's spill as "very small" and said it was largely contained to "spill pans" along the tracks in the rail yard installed for just such an incident. He described the location as "blocks from the water" and said the spill was so small that city firefighters did not need to respond.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan was notified, as were the state Department of Environmental Conservation's spill response team and the Federal Railroad Administration, Hendrick said.

"The terminal has a complete spill plan with the railroad and the DEC, and they followed it as soon as it occurred," Hendrick said. "Any place where they're offloading that product there's a pan that's in the tracks for any spills."

Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for DEC, said the agency believes the 100-gallon estimate to be correct. Constantakes said most of the oil appears to have sprayed into what he described as a "secondary asphalt containment area."

The agency was on the scene Sunday as the firm Clean Harbors cleaned up the spill and will return Monday to confirm, Constantakes said.

"Everything seemed to be for the most part contained," he said.

The exact time of the incident was not immediately clear, but it appeared to have happened sometime between 2 and 2:30 p.m.

Hendrick said he did not know exactly how the oil spilled from the car, but said it's possible the day's heat could have caused it to expand.

Greenberg, the railroad spokesman, said Canadian Pacific did not own the rail car and could not comment on what might have caused the spill. But he said it's standard procedure after any incident to review the circumstances with its customers.

"Right now it looks like a valve," Constantakes said, "but we haven't been able to completely confirm that."

A representative of Massachusetts-based Global Partners to could not be reached for comment late Sunday.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple called it "unbelievable" that his office, which oversees emergency management for the county, was not alerted.

"Here we don't even have the decency of a heads-up," Apple said. "No matter how small it is, just give us the heads-up. This just doesn't sit well."

As recently as last month, city, county and other local officials participated in a training drill at the port with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to prepare for the possibility of an emergency.

Hendrick reiterated that all the proper state and federal authorities were notified.

While anxiety about the safety of the rail infrastructure used to transport the oil was amplified by the explosion that ripped through Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last July — killing nearly four dozen people and leveling the town after an oil train derailment — local concern began bubbling in earnest even before then.

In December 2012, the outer hull of a tanker carrying about 12 million gallons of North Dakota crude out of Albany was pierced soon after the ship left the port. No oil spilled in that incident thanks to the ship's double hull, but it stoked fears among those who believe neither state nor federal authorities were prepared to respond to an oil spill on the river.

Last month, Canadian Pacific was fined the maximum $5,000 by the state for waiting too long to report the derailment of four oil-laden cars in its rail yard near the port.

No oil spilled in that incident, but in response McCoy called for legislation making it a crime punishable by jail time for rail operators to delay reporting hazardous materials-related mishaps.


Do you like this post?

Showing 6 reactions

commented 2014-06-30 23:31:31 -0400 · Flag
Tim is absolutely right and it makes me very angry they are so deceitful.
commented 2014-06-30 20:01:38 -0400 · Flag
This is just the usual scenario of chronic failure to take responsibility, and to evade telling the truth.

Global doesn’t want to take any responsibility because they don’t own the tank car.

“Greenberg, the railroad spokesman, said Canadian Pacific did not own the rail car and could not comment on what might have caused the spill. But he said it’s standard procedure after any incident to review the circumstances with its customers.”

Global knows who owns the tank car, as Global leased the car from the owners.

CP Rail apparently knows who owns the car, “as it’s standard procedure after any incident to review the circumstances with its customers.”

But apparently neither Global nor CP Rail were willing to say who owns the tank car.

How could anyone trust these people? They are not only irresponsible, the are blatantly devious.
commented 2014-06-30 11:13:18 -0400 · Flag
I double down on everything Jessica, Nancy and David said. The title of this post minimized the issue. It should be APPROPRIATE Big Flap over Oil Spill.
commented 2014-06-30 08:19:53 -0400 · Flag
All the details of this incident should be reported promptly and accurately to ALL appropriate governing entities and released to the public. Every local TV station report on this. This could have been much worse! The people of Albany are very concerned for their health and safety.
commented 2014-06-30 06:12:34 -0400 · Flag
This is what happens when an industry that operates in its own little bubble…AKA “the railroad exception”…thinks that it doesn’t owe an explanation to anyone. it’s part of an institutional culture that gives them the confidence to request an exception to the federal DOT’s order to disclose their schedule of crude oil shipments. Leaders of these rail and crude oil transport companies should think about the fact that CP Rail and Global/Buckeye employees are at just as much risk as people living and working along the tracks throughout the Capital District. It’s in their best interests (and their neighbors’) to press for testing to get some data that definitively illustrates what the true nature of this crude oil is, and push to have it destabilized before it leaves its point of origin. A move like that would go a long way to change the public’s perception that theirs is an industry couched in secrecy and unconcerned about the health and safety of the communities they move their hazardous cargo through every day. And these companies should be leading the charge for regulation and higher standards for the cars carrying the oil itself. They may not have a LOT of employees at Kenwood Yard, but those folks…and the people operating the trains…are in danger every day.
commented 2014-06-30 01:07:05 -0400 · Flag
A Port Official Says – “An estimated 100 gallons of oil that spilled from a rail car at a transfer facility at the Port of Albany Sunday posed no danger to nearby residents or the environment, a port official said.”
I Read – No more than the danger already posed to the residents and the environment by this lucrative industry.

Port Manager Richard Hendrick says – “The oil spilled from a rail car vent”
I Worry – Vent, like the vent on the top of the tank car? So why the back pressure? What HUMAN ERROR existed to cause this incident? What will the next HUMAN ERROR cause? An Explosion?

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Canadian Pacific railroad says – “only a small amount — five gallons or less — spilled”
I Worry – Why is this guy so out of touch with the numbers DEC has? His understanding was 20 TIMES off… I wouldn’t trust this guy to balance my check book, or calculate the milk required for lunch at pre-school.

County Executive Dan McCoy says – “This just assures me that what I’m doing is right,”
I Believe – Heck yeah you are, 100%.

Port Manager Richard Hendrick described – Sunday’s spill as “very small”
I understand – DEC handles approximately 16,000 Spills annually, “Many of these reports are releases of small quantities, typically a few gallons, that are contained and cleaned up quickly with little damage to the environment.”
Again, Mr. Hendrick must have gone to school with Mr. Greenberg, because their math skills struggle to rival that of an 8-year old. Or, maybe they just talk out of their respective asses without any real investigation or concern for the damage they cause?

Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for DEC says – “most of the oil appears to have sprayed…”
I Think – OK, so we go from SPILLED to SPRAYED (like a geyser from a roof vent?) and a SMALL spill of 5 gallons to a LARGE spill of 100 gallons. Who do you trust is reporting more accurate information?

Port Manager Richard Hendrick (remember, not a scientist and dreadful at math) says – “it’s possible the day’s heat could have caused it to expand.”
I Worry – Great, Boiling Liquids and Expanding Vapors… this is an equation that only leads to one thing… EXPLOSION.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple called it – “unbelievable”
I Think – Everyone in town better start believing, because Global and Buckeye are here and they have the $$ and they have the ability to kill residents, destroy a nationally-significant river and bankrupt this County 6-times over in a matter of seconds.

Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services ran – A CIRCUS at the Port about a month back and called it a training exercise
I would call it – CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE if they are actually telling OUR firefighters to move to a tank car on fire that is actively venting as was shown in the newspaper photo.

McCoy called – for legislation making it a crime punishable by jail time for rail operators.
I Think – it is about time the oil company Boards and Executives become adults and are held responsible for all incidents and effects of their businesses and operations. Which means, if someone dies, and by now these CEO’s and Chairmen and Board Members know their operations can kill, that they are on trial for Second Degree Murder – depraved indifference, at a minimum.

N.Y. PEN. LAW § 125.25 : NY Code – Section 125.25: Murder in the second degree
Under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person

Recklessly engages in conduct – yup
creates a grave risk or death – yup
death of another person – simply a matter of time until it happens in NY

Looks like Murder – Second Degree to me.
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.