Albany's port key as crude surges

Times Union | October 8, 2014 | Column by Brian Nearing

Rail officials say facility stands to benefit from a rise in shipping it


With a Canadian Pacific railroad official predicting a surge in shipments of tar sands crude to Eastern outlets, the Port of Albany stands poised to handle much of that growth simply because of its location.

This week, Keith Creel, CP's chief operating officer, told The Wall Street Journal that increased transport of tar sands crude oil from Alberta would in coming years account for about 60 percent of the railroad's oil revenue.

His announcement also came as European Union regulators announced that they will not assign carbon-intensity penalties to tar sands crude, even though the extraction methods required to produce tar sand oil is more carbon intensive.

That could make shipping tar sands crudes from the Eastern seaboard to Europe more lucrative and increase the importance of Albany, which is the only ice-free port on the Eastern seaboard accessible to CP lines.

That revelation has prompted opponents concerned that the growth will bring a rise in potential safety and environmental hazards to ask the state Department of Environmental Conservation to revisit earlier approvals allowing up to 2.8 billion gallons of crude to flow annually through the port.

Creel told the Wall Street Journal that "growth is shifting from the light sweet Bakken crude, which is the more volatile and sensitive, to the heavy crude in northern Alberta. It's safer, less volatile and more profitable to move, and we're uniquely positioned to connect to the West Coast as well as the East Coast."

CP spokeswoman Breanne Feigel said, "Albany will remain an important end destination for shipments of crude on CP's network during our anticipated period of growth. We are not currently in a position to speculate how much of this growth will be destined to Albany at this time; it is important to acknowledge that the safe movement of these goods remains a priority for CP."

Feigel said that in New York state, CP has increased "inspections, patrols and testing of our infrastructure in this corridor, which includes daily visual and computerized track inspections through Albany and the Capital Region." Trains are inspected upon departure and "several times while proceeding to its destination. And while the tank cars are shipper supplied, each one undergoes a mechanical inspection process before being moved by CP on our tracks," she added.

Albany already has become a focal shipping point for another type of crude oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota. Bakken crude is lighter and more flammable, and floats in water. Tar sands crude is less volatile, but heavier, and sinks to the bottom in water, which can make spills in water difficult to clean up.

CP's rail line runs from western Canadian tar sands fields and east to Montreal. From there, the line runs south along the western shore of Lake Champlain, and then to Albany's port, where crude oil can be loaded for placement on tankers or barges for shipment down the Hudson River to coastal refineries or oceangoing oil tankers.

One of CP's customers, Global Partners, is seeking state permission to add a crude oil heating plant at its Albany terminal, which opponents fear would be used to heat tar sands oil, which in cold temperatures can become too thick to effectively pump. Global has neither confirmed nor denied it will start accepting tar sands and the state Department of Environmental Conservation is still reviewing a proposed permit for the facility.

"Following on the shipments of Bakken crude, you could see tar sands coming to Albany fairly soon," said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York and chairman of an Albany County task force appointed by County Executive Dan McCoy to study crude oil rail shipments.

"The industry has defined the Hudson River as a focal point, and the European decision on tar sands could make those markets more lucrative, so Albany could see even more activity as a result. It is clear that the DEC needs to do a full environmental impact statement on what Big Oil wants to do in this state in the future." Through a spokesman, McCoy called the CP announcement "disconcerting .. it appears that rail shipments of tar sands will be headed to our area."

Chris Amato, a staff attorney for the environmental legal group Earthjustice, said the CP and European Union announcements "underscores the need for the DEC to put the brakes on this now and require a full environmental impact statement on all aspects of crude oil operations at the Port of Albany."

Amato questioned how DEC approved increasing permitted crude oil shipments to a maximum of 2.8 billion gallons annually while also ruling the increase would have no adverse environmental impact.

[email protected] • 518-454-5094 • @Bnearing10

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Showing 5 reactions

commented 2014-10-11 23:20:19 -0400 · Flag
Thanks, Christina, for your comment. Come join us for the DEC protest on Tues., 10/21 from 11:30 – 12:15. If you’re free.
commented 2014-10-11 22:26:26 -0400 · Flag
We don’y want their dirty tar sand oil.
commented 2014-10-10 13:20:10 -0400 · Flag
Pause must keep up the opposition to the proposed boilers at the port and to any shipments of the tar sands through NY. It’s possible this type of crude is already being transshipped but not transferred within NY. The toxins used to cut this viscous to make it more fluid are truly frightening. One possible solvent is the explosive Bakken. The combination of these two types of crude is truly frightening.
@PAUSEnergy tweeted this page. 2014-10-09 15:13:00 -0400
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy posted about Albany's port key as crude surges on PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy's Facebook page 2014-10-09 15:12:59 -0400
Albany's port key as crude surges
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.