What Riverkeeper is Doing to Prevent a Crude Oil Spill

Riverkeeper | April 3, 2014 | Post by Paul Gallay

The transport of crude oil on and along the Hudson River presents a new and grave threat—the most significant new threat we’ve faced in a generation.

A heavy crude oil spill on the Hudson could set back the clock half a century or more, undoing all the accomplishments of Riverkeeper and many others in restoring this great river, and wasting billions of dollars of investment in waterfront revitalization. Recent spills on the Mississippi River and in Galveston Bay point to risks that are startlingly real today, 25 years after the Exxon Valdez disaster. A derailment of a 100-plus car train carrying Bakken crude oil could devastate one or more of our communities, a risk that has been demonstrated in a string of disasters, most notably in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people died and downtown buildings were leveled by an explosive crude oil fire.

Riverkeeper is meeting this challenge head on. The question we keep hearing is: But what can Riverkeeper do? Here’s the answer.

Prevent the transport of heavy crude oils on the Hudson

The proposed expansion of Global Partners LP oil terminals in Albany and New Windsor would allow the heating of heavy crude oils to facilitate their transfer from rail to river vessel, for transport to refineries on the East Coast. Heavy crude oils like tar sands from Alberta, Canada, won’t float. Heavy crude will largely sink, or remain suspended in the water column—and even a successful spill response might recover just 5% of the oil spilled. That poses a catastrophic risk to wildlife, the drinking water intakes for nearly 100,000 homes and the public and private investments in parkland, tourism, real estate and infrastructure on our waterfronts.

The New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) has directed Global Partners LP to provide information about its business, and indicated that all its operations were under review. The DEC is showing signs of becoming an ally in, rather than an impediment to, our efforts to protect the Hudson River from the expansion of this risky business.

That’s no accident. Riverkeeper has helped bring together a coalition of environmental organizations and grassroots citizen groups to fight these expansions. We, and some 2,500 individuals who took action at riverkeeper.org, have sent numerous letters to the DEC expressing our concerns and demanding a full environmental review of proposed expansions over the past two months. If DEC ultimately fails to require Global to prepare a full environmental impact study, Riverkeeper is prepared to go to court.

Call on the DEC to reconsider permits granted that already allow river transport of dirty crude oil

From 2011 to 2013, the DEC granted multiple permits to Global Partners LP and Buckeye Partners LP to expand their oil Port of Albany terminals that have made Albany a global hub for the transport of crude oil extracted from fracked wells in the Bakken region of North Dakota. It is shipped in deficient rail cars, strung 100 or more to a train, to Albany, where it is transferred to river barge or tanker. These terminals are permitted to transfer 2.8 billion gallons of crude oil per year—and yet all DEC required of the companies were modifications to their air quality permits. No consideration was given to the risks associated with rail or river transport of a wholly new petroleum product to hundreds of communities and our most precious waterways.

We will continue to press the DEC to reconsider these permits, and give the residents of New York the public process and environmental impact study the law demands for this type of risky business.

Advocate for a federal moratorium on crude oil transport

Riverkeeper has called for federal authorities to enact a moratorium on crude oil transport in New York State, at least until critical safety improvements that industry and regulators alike agree are overdue have been made to rail and river transport systems, and spill response plans have been updated, tested and proved capable of meeting this new worst-case scenario spill.

Advocate for specific rail safety improvements

In addition to the 2.8 billion gallons of crude oil being transported to Albany for transfer to river vessel, approximately 2.2 billion are moved by train through New York State, including the Hudson Valley, to refineries in the Philadelphia area. This volume could increase by another 1-2 billion gallons if Global Partners LP expands its New Windsor oil terminal.

Riverkeeper is advocating for specific rail safety rules and regulations that the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) can enact to reduce the risk from the startling rise in crude oil shipments by rail, which have led to spills of over 3 million gallons in the U.S. and Canada since 2008.

These agencies can and must require the use of safer tank cars and routes, audit and improve spill response plans, require testing and accurate classification of cargo, and ensure that companies involved in the transport of crude oil have insurance adequate to cover the costs of spills.

Advocate for specific river transport safety improvements

Riverkeeper was the only non-profit group invited to the first spill response drill on the Hudson River in years, and remains an active participant in spill response planning that is robust enough to meet the threat of crude oil. While prevention is our first goal, we will continue to study and advocate for improvements to vessel transport, spill response capabilities and other measures.

Educate the public and decision makers

Riverkeeper has presented information to decision makers in Ulster and Rockland counties, providing an overview of the industry, its risks and what decision makers at the local, county, state and federal level can do to mitigate those risks. We have presented information to the public via a webinar that is available as a web video, where people can also find an overview of the issue and recent news on the campaign. Our effort is winning praise from Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has referred to Riverkeeper as the go-to source for information on this issue. More importantly, we’re getting results – decision-makers at all levels of government are taking action.

For Riverkeeper, this is an all-hands-on-deck moment. The team we’ve assembled is second to none, led by: Kate Hudson, our Watershed Program Director, a leading advocate on fracking in New York State with decades of experience working for the restoration of the Hudson River; Phillip Musegaas, our Hudson River Program Director, the lead attorney fighting to close Indian Point and key to a host of critical victories; and John Lipscomb, our boat captain, who has perhaps more connections to people on the Hudson and a deeper knowledge of the river, than anyone after 13 years of patrolling the Hudson River. Attorneys Mike Dulong and Sean Dixon are integral to the team. Former journalists Tina Posterli, Dan Shapley, Neale Gulley and Leah Rae are assisting on research, outreach and communications. Dana Gulley and Gwendolyn Chambers are key to our outreach strategy, and many other staff members have contributed.

A threat like this is why the Hudson has a Riverkeeper. Please join us by learning more at riverkeeper.org/crudetaking action, and donating to the campaign.

http://www.riverkeeper.org/blog/watchdog/what-riverkeeper-is-doing-to-prevent-a-crude-oil-spill/

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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.