Lowey Wants Bakken Crude Rail Ban

The Albany Project | May 12, 2015 | Post by Tod Westlake

We’ve had lots of news in recent weeks about elected officials behaving badly, haven’t we? So, it’s refreshing to post something a bit more positive. To wit, Congresswoman Nita Lowey (NY-17), is proposing an outright ban on Bakken crude being shipped by rail in the US:

Moments before U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey was preparing to talk about her latest oil train safety initiative, she received word that a 109-car oil train had derailed in North Dakota, with several of the tank cars exploding and catching fire, leading to the evacuation of a town of about 35 residents.

“Can you imagine if it happened here?” Lowey said Wednesday morning at a CSX rail crossing in West Nyack used by 15 to 30 oil trains a week.

With improved tank cars set to be phased in over the next decade, Lowey said the oil placed inside them also had to be made less dangerous. On Monday, she plans to introduce a bill banning all interstate rail shipments of Bakken crude oil if they are not first treated to remove explosive gases.

The measure would affect a large percentage of trains carrying crude oil through Rockland and an increasing number nationwide. In 2014, more than 410 million barrels of crude oil were transported in nearly 500,000 carloads, with most coming from the Bakken shale region in North Dakota, Montana and Canada, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

If you’ve been following this issue, you will have noticed that about a half-dozen of these trains have derailed and exploded in just the past year or so. Fortunately, these disasters haven’t happened in a highly populated area. But such a disaster did happen a few years back, as the the residents of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, know all too well. In that case, an unattended train lost its brakes, and then careened uncontrolled into the downtown area, where it derailed and exploded in a huge fireball that leveled more than 30 buildings. 47 residents of the town lost their lives in that one.

And, as we and others have pointed out continually, nearly identical trains travel from Albany, down along the Hudson, through other towns and cities, eventually traveling into the densely populated areas of Orange and Rockland Counties. My own City if Kingston, a little further to the north, has a set of tracks over which these mobile disasters haul their volatile cargo. These tracks are less than a half-mile from my house. So, yeah, I see this is as kind of an immediate problem.

What Lowey is talking about is something that Chuck Schumer also suggested: that this stuff is simply too volatile to ship by rail. The simple solution would be for the oil companies to be forced to refine Bakken crude to an extent that it’s safe to ship — before you load in onto a train that travels through residential neighborhoods and downtowns, and past schools and hospitals:

“Bakken crude oil is much more volatile and prone to explosion than other types of crude, making it particularly hazardous when tank cars derail or puncture, no matter how strong the cars may be. We need an all-of-the-above to safety, so I am urging the Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy to develop a plan that would require oil companies to stabilize the crude oil to a certain standard before it is even loaded onto oil trains. It is something oil companies are fully capable of doing and it has been done in other oil fields around the country. We need to ensure these train cars are safer, but we also need to ensure that the highly volatile crude oil that is in them is safer too,” said Schumer. “The damage that volatile, highly dangerous Bakken crude can cause in New York communities is tremendous, and that is why I have been fighting for over a year and a half now to get the federal government to issue strong regulations that would make the tank cars that transport this oil safer. And while we are finally on the precipice of making rules a reality, we need to extend our efforts and require that the crude oil itself be made safer.”

I’m not going to hold my breath that this congress can get anything like Lowey’s bill to pass anytime soon. But it’s encouraging to see that another member of New York’s congressional delegation recognizes the threat to our communities these things pose, and that there appears to be a groundswell of concern growing among lawmakers.

More of this, please.


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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy posted about Lowey Wants Bakken Crude Rail Ban on PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy's Facebook page 2015-05-19 23:29:33 -0400
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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.