Oil train foes rally

Times Union | February 9, 2015 | Column by Brian Nearing

They seek tighter state scrutiny of safety and environmental risks

Opponnents of continued crude oil train shipments into the Port of Albany rally outside the downtown headquarters of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Albany

Opponents of continued rail shipments of crude oil into the Port of Albany rallied Monday in a snowstorm outside the downtown Albany headquarters of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, renewing calls that the state take a closer look at potential environmental and safety risks.

"We are asking for full transparency and scrutiny by DEC for the health and safety of all Capital District residents," said Albany County Legislator Doug Bullock, a resident of Albany who represents the 7th Legislative District.

Last week, Bullock delivered to DEC a resolution signed by 22 county lawmakers that urged DEC to rescind a ruling last year that a proposed crude oil heating plant at the port byGlobal Partners would have no significant environmental impact. Opponents fear the facility would be used to heat Canadian tar sands oil, which in cold temperatures can become too thick to pump for transport. DEC is still reviewing the proposal.

In June, the environmental group EarthJustice sued DEC seeking to get that ruling, called a negative declaration, overturned. The case remains pending in state Supreme Court in Albany County, said EarthJustice staff attorneyChris Amato on Monday.

Last fall, EarthJustice and other oil train opponents in Albany County also petitioned DEC Commissioner Joe Martens to use legal authority called "summary abatement" to ban the entry of the most common rail oil tank car — called a DOT-111 — from the port.

The Albany County resolution also called on Martens to ban DOT-111s through summary abatement, which is meant to address imminent danger to life, health or the environment.

Amid growing safety concerns after a spate of oil-laden DOT-111 derailments, explosions and fires — including a 2013 blast in Quebec that killed 47 people — federal officials are considering phasing out DOT-111s from hauling crude oil, but that could take until 2020.

Crude oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota is being hauled by trains to Albany and other coastal ports using a fleet of some 92,000 DOT-111 tanker cars.

The shipping industry is switching over to armored, sturdier cars, a process that could take years, and older models still account for two-thirds of the current fleet.

At Monday's rally, County Legislator Alison McClean Lane, a resident of Menands, said she sees passing oil trains from her back yard.

"The trains are coming through at all hours of the day and night," she said. "At times, I have counted as many as 150 tankers in a single train."

Some residents of her neighborhood are so worried about a potential train derailment, and resulting oil spill, explosion or fire, that they have purchased their own hazardous materials protective suits and respirators, she said.

Some of the risks from oil trains may be less extreme, but still dangerous, said Tom McPheeters, of the South End grass-roots group A Village. He said there are gaps in hurricane fencing around railroad tracks, which allow anyone to get onto the tracks.

"We want the rail companies to be better neighbors and fix their fences," McPheeters said.

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

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@PAUSEnergy tweeted this page. 2015-02-10 11:31:14 -0500
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy posted about Oil train foes rally on PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy's Facebook page 2015-02-10 11:31:14 -0500
Oil train foes rally
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.