West Virginia accident renews concerns over oil trains in NY

Legislative Gazette | February 23, 2015 | Column by Keith J. Ferrante

Two recent oil train derailments in Ontario and West Virginia renewed calls by environmental groups to better regulate the shipment of crude oil in New York state.

Meanwhile, the heads of the state's Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Conservation are urging the federal government to adopt tougher safety regulations for shipments of crude oil.

On Saturday Feb. 14, a Canadian National Railway train hauling crude oil derailed in a remote area of heavy woods near the municipality of Timmins, located in the Cochrane District in northern Ontario, temporarily blocking the main line between Manitoba and the eastern part of the country.

In a second incident on Monday Feb. 16, a CSX train carrying 3 million gallons of crude oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota jumped the tracks in Mount Carbon, West Virginia. The derailment sparked a fire which took several days for responders to extinguish. According to the Associated Press, 107 of the train's 109 cars were tank cars, and 27 of them left the tracks, while 19 tank cars were involved in the fire. The derailment also caused oil to leak into a tributary of the Kanawha River, burned down a nearby house, resulted in water treatment plans and then eventually was temporarily shut down.

The West Virginia incident is the second fuel-related disaster in 2015 for the state. On Jan. 23, a tanker truck spilled about 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel into a Greenbrier River tributary near Lewisburg.

A statement from the state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald and the state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens said, "The safety of our communities and our residents must be our highest priority and we cannot wait until the next derailment to act."

Martens and McDonald are asking the Obama administration to retrofit oil cars with reinforced steel plates and install better braking systems to help prevent accidents like the ones that made recent headlines.

"We encourage President Obama to make the review and approval of these new regulations a priority," Martens and McDonalds said in their joint statement.

Riverkeeper, an environmental nonprofit organization, said the state should suspend permits granted to the Port of Albany's oil loading facilities and have the DEC conduct an environmental impact statement before the reactivation of the permits.

They are also calling on the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to institute a speed limit, limit the length of trains, prohibit the use of vulnerable and least resilient tank cars and require railroads to develop comprehensive spill response plans specific to each county the trains travel through.

In addition to the recent accidents, oil train disasters have caused massive damage and loss of life in Quebec and North Dakota in recent years. With these petroleum-related events prominently in the news, citizens and activist groups are pressuring lawmakers to move away from fossil fuels and petroleum production.

Sandy Steubing, an environmental activist working with the nonprofit organization People of Albany United for Safe Energy, said pressure needs to be put on Commissioner Martens to use his summary abatement authority to stop the use of trains to transport oil across the state due to the potential for environmental disaster. She also said there is an urgent need to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, ultimately targeting stability for the environment and climate.

"We need to switch and we need to switch right now," Steubing said. "I think climate stability is a mandate for us. It's not an option, it's an obligation."

http://www.legislativegazette.com/Articles-Top-Stories-c-2015-02-23-90865.113122-West-Virginia-accident-renews-concerns-over-oil-trains-in-NY.html

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West Virginia accident renews concerns over oil trains in NY
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.