Crude spill react plan

Times Union | May 27, 2015 | Column by Brian Nearing

State proposes response network, more testing of the air at Port of Albany

The state will add more air pollution testing this summer around crude oil terminals at the Port of Albany as part of plans that also call for a 21-county network of spill response equipment and training where crude oil trains travel, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Wednesday.

At the port, where residents of the nearby South End neighborhood have complained of noxious odors since oil trains began rolling in several years ago, DEC will launch a "systemic air monitoring study" for hydrogen sulfide, an invisible, poisonous gas that has the odor of rotten eggs.

This month, when DEC pulled its initial 2013 environmental approval for a proposed crude oil heating plant at the port by Massachusetts-based Global Partners, it found that the company "failed to provide sufficient information" on potential increased emissions of the gas.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who have been vocal critics of oil train safety preparedness, welcomed the steps.

Sheehan said, "The new air monitoring and odor response mechanisms will be welcomed by our residents who live and work near the port." McCoy added, "These mitigation measures are important as we try to measure the environmental impacts these activities may have in our community."

But an Albany-based oil train opponent said the measures fall short.

"The one action which would make a critical difference — summary abatement — has not been taken," said Sandy Steubing, of People of Albany United for Safe Energy. The group wants DEC to ban the trains entirely.

DEC is also setting up a hotline — 800-457-7362 — for people who live around the port to report strange odors. DEC said staffers will use "new, portable air monitoring equipment to quickly assess air quality and detect such substances as volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide."

DEC also announced it has hired the Syracuse firm Parsons Engineering to help develop a 21-county network of geographic response plans to coordinate the deployment of "specialized oil spill response equipment along rail corridors statewide used for crude transport."

Expected to be ready by April, the plans will include "specific strategies and tactics to response to crude oil incidents in sensitive areas near the rail corridors that county emergency planners will help identify."

DEC will buy and maintain the spill equipment, for land- and water-based spills, and provide training to local emergency workers. The program is based on one developed in Clinton County last year, where seven response plans were developed.

The program has a budget of $700,000, but the number of plans that will be created has not been determined, DEC spokesman Tom Mailey, said.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said the program was being paid for with additional funding raised by an increased fee on crude oil shipments passing into and through the state.

"New York is working with federal and local partners to develop and implement plans to effectively mitigate the risks posed by the high volume of crude oil being transported through New York and to strengthen our spill response capabilities," Martens said.

The announcement also included a new permanent air pollution monitor added to the South End in March to detect other toxic pollutants including benzene and formaldehyde, as was reported by the Albany Times Union last week. Test results from this sensor will be available by late September, according to DEC.

"It is great that the state is finally responding to the pleas of the communities who have been calling for greater protections from big oil," said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. "These steps are good, but what is now needed is a full impact analysis that assesses the risks before we allow any more types of oil to flow through."

"We love what we are hearing. We have been pushing for two years locally pre-staged oil spill response equipment, and training for local first responders," said John Lipscomb, who heads the Hudson River patrol boat for the environmental group Riverkeeper.

He added, "But this announcement seems to be all about rail lines. The threat to the Hudson is partially from rail lines and partly from vessel traffic."

Mailey said the oil spill response plan for the Hudson south of Troy is the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard. The state will create plans for portions of the upper Hudson and Lake Champlain where crude oil trains travel, he added.

bnearing@timesunion.com • 518-454-5094 • @Bnearing10

http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Crude-spill-react-plan-6290389.php

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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.