NYS to fund oil spill gear in 21 counties, more air pollution testing at Albany port

Times Union | May 27, 2015 | Post by Brian Nearing

The state will add more air pollution testing this summer around crude oil terminals at the Port of Albany as part of plans that also call for a 21-county network of state-funded spill response equipment and training where crude oil trains routinely travel, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Wednesday.

At the port, where residents of the nearby South End neighborhood have complained of noxious odors since massive oil trains began rolling in several years ago, DEC will launch a “systemic air monitoring study” for hydrogen sulfide, an invisible, poisonous gas that has the odor of rotten eggs.

This month, when DEC pulled its initial 2013 environmental nod for a proposed crude oil heating plant at the port by Massachusetts-based Global Partners, DEC found that the company “failed to provide sufficient information” on potential increased emissions of the gas.

DEC is also setting up a hotline _ 1-800-457-7362 _ for people who live around the port to report strange odors. DEC said staffers will use “new, portable air monitoring equipment to quickly assess air quality and detect such substances as volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide.”

DEC also announced it has hired the Syracuse firm Parsons Engineering to help develop a 21-county network of “geographic response plans” to coordinate the deployment of “specialized oil spill response equipment along rail corridors statewide used for crude transport.”

Expected to be ready by April 2016, the plans will include “specific strategies and tactics to response to crude oil incidents in sensitive areas near the rail corridors that county emergency planners will help identify.”

DEC will buy and maintain the spill equipment, and provide training on how to use it to local emergency workers. The program is based on a pilot program developed in Clinton County last year.

The announcement also included a new permanent air pollution monitor added to the South End in March to detect other toxic pollutants including benzene and formaldehyde, as was reported by the Albany Times Union last week. Test results from this sensor will be available by late September, according to DEC.

Here is the complete press release:

Crude oil spill response capabilities will be enhanced across New York State with a series of actions announced today by state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens. In addition, DEC will begin additional air monitoring at the Port of Albany.

“Under Governor Cuomo’s direction, New York is working with federal and local partners to develop and implement plans to effectively mitigate the risks posed by the high volume of crude oil being transported through New York and to strengthen our spill response capabilities,” Commissioner Martens said. “This year’s State Budget provided additional resources to enhance crude oil transport safety and make us better prepared to respond to a crude oil spill along the state’s rail or river transportation corridors. We are working with local communities to implement additional safeguards.”

 The state’s enhanced spill response capabilities are part of ongoing efforts under Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 125, which directed multiple state agencies and authorities to develop and improve safety procedures and response preparedness to better protect New York’s communities and environment from the potential risks associated with the transport of crude oil.

 Enhanced Spill Response Capabilities

 After the successful completion of a pilot project in Clinton County, DEC will now develop Geographic Response Plans (GRPs) and deploy specialized spill response equipment along rail corridors statewide used for crude transport. DEC selected Parsons Engineering of Syracuse to assist in the development of the GRPs.

 Using funding from the 2015-16 Enacted Budget and the expanded authority provided by the recent revisions to the New York State Navigation Law, DEC is working with state and local response agencies in 21 counties to complete in-depth reviews of sensitive resources along the crude-by-rail transportation corridors, and identify key locations where GRPs will be created to improve spill preparedness and responses. The GRPs will include specific strategies and tactics to respond to crude oil incidents in sensitive areas near the rail corridors that county emergency planning committees will help identify.

 DEC will use the plans to purchase and deploy critical response equipment (e.g., oil absorbent booms, pumps, etc.) to aid local incident response efforts in the crude-by-rail corridors. DEC staff and contractors will train local responders and the equipment will be maintained by DEC through a contractor.

 Beginning in 2014, DEC met with Emergency Officials in Clinton County to discuss plans and conduct a pilot project to improve planning and preparedness in the crude by rail corridor. DEC collected information from local and other sources on sensitive human populations, critical infrastructure and vulnerable environmental areas. DEC used this information to formulate plans to protect residents in the region.

Building on this pilot project, the expanded efforts will include significant collaboration with DEC’s local, state and federal response partners, including county hazmat teams, local fire departments, the State Department of Transportation, the State Department of Health, the State Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other organizations. It is anticipated the GRPs for all 21 counties will be completed by April 2016.

Additional Air Monitoring and Odor Hotline at the Ports of Albany and Rensselaer

This summer DEC will begin a systematic air monitoring study for hydrogen sulfide in the Port of Albany to determine whether DEC’s one-hour regulatory standard for hydrogen sulfide is exceeded anywhere in the port. DEC has also established a 24-hour, toll-free hotline to allow community residents near the ports of Albany and Rensselaer to report nuisance odors emanating from those facilities. In response to complaints, DEC will use portable air monitoring equipment to conduct on-the-spot air quality inspections to assess the odor issues and help identify the cause.

 The new air monitoring study for hydrogen sulfide in the Albany port will use monitors that will be in place for a week at a time, at various locations within the port, over the summer months when hydrogen sulfide levels are expected to be higher. Hydrogen sulfide, which may be produced in a variety of port activities, produces a noxious “rotten egg” odor. Results of the monitoring will be made available to the public after being reviewed for quality control. If elevated pollution levels are detected, DEC will investigate the source of the emissions using a handheld monitor.

 In addition, in March 2015 DEC added an ambient air monitor for toxics in the vicinity of the port to its statewide air toxics monitoring program. This monitor, located on South Pearl Street, records levels of various toxic pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde and other pollutants associated with mobile sources and industrial activities, including facilities that handle petroleum products. DEC selected this site, which is the first in the expansion of the statewide air toxics network, to capture the regional impact of local and transported emissions. Initial results of the monitoring will be available by late September.

DEC’s 24-hour, toll-free odor hotline number for Albany and Rensselaer port complaints is 1-800-457-7362. When a complaint is received, DEC responders will use new, portable air monitoring equipment to quickly assess air quality and detect such substances as volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide, a compound that smells like rotten eggs. DEC advises community residents who smell a strong natural gas odor to call 911 immediately.

DEC established an inventory of potential odor sources at both ports that can be investigated once an odor complaint is received. The inventory will help compare complaint locations to odor sources and the nature of the odor typically associated with each source. DEC will take enforcement action when necessary to address odor issues. DEC maintains a database of odor complaints and will look for patterns of release and other characteristics that could help identify the origin of the odors so they can be addressed.

 “Odor concerns related to activities at the ports were raised during community forums DEC attended to discuss issues associated with Global activities,” Commissioner Martens said. “Residents can use the toll-free hotline to contact DEC day or night, whenever they notice nuisance odors. We take these complaints very seriously and have the ability dispatch responders at any hour to investigate an odor complaint.”

 “Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Martens continue to respond to concerns voiced by Albany residents affected by increased rail activity in Albany,” Albany Mayor Kathy M. Sheehan said. “The new air monitoring and odor response mechanisms will be welcomed by our residents who live and work near the Port. I also want to thank the Governor and DEC for increasing funding for spill responses.”

 “I want to thank Governor Andrew Cuomo and the DEC for taking aggressive action to fully determine the air quality impacts of oil trains and related activities at the Port of Albany. These mitigations measures are important as we try to measure the environmental impacts these activities may have in our community,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy.

 New York’s Actions to Prevent and Prepare for Potential Crude Oil Incidents

This year’s state budget raised the state’s Oil Spill Fund cap from $25 million to $40 million to ensure the solvency of the fund, and also provided up to $2.1 million annually to plan and prepare for potential crude oil incidents. In addition, the budget funds eight new DEC staff and six additional employees at the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control (OFPC) dedicated to oil spill planning, training and response.

 The budget also increased fees for most oil imported into New York State to 13.75 cents per barrel from 12.25, and increased the surcharge for oil transshipped through the state from 1.5 cents per barrel to 13.75 cents. The fee for crude oil imported into the state and consumed by in-state end users remains at 12.25 cents per barrel.


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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.