Critics say proposed oil pipeline along New York State Thruway presents bigger danger than rail, barge transport

Daily Freeman | February 7, 2015 | Column by Brian Hubert

Riverkeeper attorney Kate Hudson likens choosing among rail, river barges and pipelines for transporting crude oil through the region to “picking your poison.”

Tania Barricklo-Daily Freeman Representatives from the groups New Paltz Climate Action Coalition, Protecting Our Waters, Citizens For Local Power, and CODE ( Citizens Oppose Dirty Energy) lined Main Street at South Putt Corners Road in New Paltz in December 2014 to show their opposition to the construction of the Pilgrim Pipeline if the state ThruwayAuthority permits an easement through the area. The groups have cited pipeline accidents and explosions throughout the country involving the volatile Bakken crude oil that the pipeline would carry.

She said she has grave concerns about the proposed 178-mile Pilgrim Pipeline that, if built, would more or less follow the New York State Thruway right-of-way and carry Bakken crude oil from a terminal in Albany to refineries in Linden, New Jersey, and refined products back north. 

While she said the project’s backers say pipelines are safer than trains or barges, she disagrees. Unlike barges and railcars, she said, pipelines are not loaded with a finite amount of product. 

“When one or two rail cars go off and puncture, or a vessel collides and leaks, we’re talking about spills that are in the 30,000-, 50,000- to 100,000-gallon range,” she said. 

A 2010 pipeline spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan, released nearly 850,000 gallons into a river, and, years later, efforts to clean up the spill continue, she said. 

Frequently, she said, pipeline leaks go undetected, noting that an 850,000-gallon spill last year in North Dakota was first discovered by a farmer. By then, some of the oil had sunk 70 feet into the ground, affecting groundwater, she said. 

Pipeline construction would create turbidity in streams and rivers the project crosses, and a leak and explosion in one pipe could compromise the other line, causing it to explode, Hudson said. And when spills do occur in a waterway, cleanups fail to remove a majority of the spill, Hudson said. Recovering 25 percent of a spill is considered a successful cleanup, she said. 

Hudson said she is also concerned with how company surveyors have approached residents along the route. 

“Landowners in New Jersey have said no, and they have received lawyer letters from legal representatives of the company threatening them,” she said. “We haven’t seen that in New York, but we are making sure that people are aware of their rights.” 

Unlike gas pipelines, which, if approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, can use eminent domain, oil pipeline companies have no such power, Hudson said. “People can say no, and if they don’t respect that, it’s trespassing,” she said. 

LOCAL OPPOSITION

Twenty communities and the New Jersey State Assembly have already passed resolutions opposing the pipeline, Hudson said. Local opposition has also mounted, with municipalities on or near the route, including the city of Kingston, and towns of New Paltz, Rosendale and Plattekill formally opposing the plan. Away from the route, the towns of Woodstock, Rochester, Marbletown and Rhinebeck have adopted similar resolutions. 

Town officials in Saugerties are currently considering a resolution opposing the plan. Ulster County Legislator Mary Wawro, who represents much of Saugerties, said the county is considering acting on the proposal as well. 

APPROVALS STILL NEEDED

The project faces a number of hurdles, including getting permission from the New York State Thruway Authority and the New York State Department of Transportation to use the Thruway right of way. “They haven’t even applied for permits yet,” Hudson said. 

Riverkeeper hasn’t formally opposed the project yet, but is supporting landowners and grassroots organizations that are, including the Coalition against the Pilgrim Pipeline in New Jersey and New York. 

Sue Rosenberg, who is leading the coalition’s efforts in Saugerties, said more than 100 people have signed a petition asking the Town Board to oppose the project, and the group is asking local communities along with the state Thruway Authority and state Department of Transportation to oppose the project. Rosenberg said she’s concerned about the pipeline leaking “volatile” crude. 

“This crude oil is particularly corrosive, more than other crude oils,” she said. 

Transporting the crude is dangerous, she said, pointing to several pipeline spills and a 2013 accident in which a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, resulting in an explosion that killed 47. 

Rosenberg also said the project has no benefit for local communities. 

Rosendale town Councilwoman Jennifer Metzger, a cofounder of Citizens for Local Power, said the risks of the pipeline project far outweigh any benefits. 

“It was not a knee-jerk resolution,” Metzger said of the Town Board’s opposition. “A lot of research was done. ... Last January, the Federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Administration issued a safety alert specifically about the volatility of Bakken crude.” 

In Rosendale, she added, the pipeline’s proposed route would pass near the Rondout Creek, the Wallkill River and three sensitive aquifers. “Most residents depend on groundwater for drinking water,” she said. 

Pipelines spill more oil than trains or barges, and spills often go unseen, Metzger said, adding that spills are caused by equipment failure, corrosion and, most often, human error. She said federal incident data shows more than 1,800 pipeline spills between 2003 and 2013, amounting to a loss of 44 million gallons of oil. 

‘NOT EXACTLY ACCURATE’

Pilgrim Pipeline spokesman Paul Nathanson said concerns about the $1 billion project are overblown. “Unfortunately, some of our opponents are providing info that’s not exactly accurate,” he said. 

He said pipelines are safer than trains or barges and the recent spills all happened on older pipelines. Pipelines built after 1990 feature anti-corrosion testing, the welding and steel are better, and inspection tools are improved, he said. 

The proposed pipeline would be monitored 24 hours a day, and the flow could be shut down remotely if a pressure change is detected, Nathanson said. In sensitive areas, valves would be spaced closer together, he added. 

“It’s not like a spill at a well,” he said, adding that spills happen at terminals and are caused by human error. 

The pipeline would be buried in a ditch 5-foot deep by 5 1/2-feet wide and would follow existing right of ways for 95 percent of the route, he said. One pipe would carry crude going south, with refined products, including gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and home heating oil returning north in a second pipe. 

The pipeline’s capacity would be 200,000 barrels a day each way, and would replace about 1,000 barge trips a year, he said. 

“Refined products are put on a barge, but it returns empty,” he said. “Two trips are not a very environmentally efficient way to transport these products.” 

The company is currently focused on getting its applications for state approval ready, he said. 

Construction standards are set by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Nathanson said. The route is not finalized, as the company must complete environmental assessments and archeological surveys, he said. 

2,000 JOBS ENVISIONED

If approved, Nathanson estimated the project would create 2,000 construction jobs and about 50 permanent jobs. 

In an statement via email, New York State Thruway Authority spokesman Dan Weiller said, “There is no pipeline proposal before the Thruway Authority at this time and any decision to proceed with a project would require a thorough analysis by Thruway, compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, and approval by the board of directors. However, it is standard procedure to issue permits for access to Thruway property in order to conduct surveying or collect other information relating to a proposal that could potentially involve or impact the system.” 

Kristin Devoe, assistant director of public affairs for the New York State Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services, said all hazardous materials incidents are handled under the Incident Command System, which is federally mandated under the National Incident Management System. Emergency planning for petroleum pipelines is similar to that of trains and trucks, she said.

“Pipelines are regulated by the United States Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration,” Devoe said. “Response plans for pipelines are required under federal law. 

Local first responders receive general information about what kind of products and what quantity is handled along the route, she added. 

“They handle the initial response,” she said. “The local responders contact the pipeline operators, along with regional and state response agencies such as DEC (state Department of Environmental Conservation) Spill Response and the (state) Office of Fire Prevention and Control.

“State agencies request the next level of response to the incident, if needed,” Devoe added.

http://www.dailyfreeman.com/general-news/20150207/critics-say-proposed-oil-pipeline-along-new-york-state-thruway-presents-bigger-danger-than-rail-barge-transport

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Critics say proposed oil pipeline along New York State Thruway presents bigger danger than rail, barge transport
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE works to promote safe, sustainable energy and environmental justice.  We aim to engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry's assault on the people of Albany and our environment.