State demands answers from crude-oil shipper

Capital New York | March 25, 2014 | Column by Scott Waldman

A Global storage tank. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ALBANY—The state environmental conservation department is stepping up its response to a Fortune 500 company bringing millions of gallons of crude oil through New York, threatening to refuse permits if Global Companies LLC does not respond to an extensive list of questions about its plans to expand.

The state is even reviewing whether environmental regulators “took the requisite hard look” at a proposed project before signing off on an air quality permit last year.

In a letter to Global sent Monday, Department of Environmental Conservation regional permit administrator William Clarke wrote that the project could be rejected unless the company answers basic questions about its liability insurance, the origination of the crude it wants to bring here as well as its capability to handle accidents and fires. All of the company's earlier permits, including those to store and ship Bakken crude from North Dakota, are also under a full review.

“The State of New York will act aggressively to ensure that the people of the State and our natural resources are not impacted by the substantial increase in the volume of oil shipped through New York State,” he wrote.

Clarke wrote that the D.E.C. decision in November to issue a negative declaration for a full environmental under the State Environmental Quality Review Act was an “interim” step that could be reversed. A more complete environmental review could significantly delay the project and open it up to lawsuits. He also extended the public comment period from April 2nd to June 2nd to allow for more community input.

“The Department's review will comprehensively evaluate whether Global and others have taken measures to minimize any impact to the environment by implementing measures to prevent and respond to a potential release of crude oil,” he wrote.

In a separate letter also sent Monday, D.E.C. Commissioner Joe Martens asked federal Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy to update spill response plans because they are decades old. He wrote that the federal government needs to help New York more adequately prepare for the rapid rise in oil transport through the state.

The proposed facility would allow a new type of heavy crude oil to be heated in Albany so that it can be transferred from train to ships and barges headed down the Hudson and to refineries along the East Coast. Environmentalists fear it could be from the tar sands of Western Canada, regarded as one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet and nearly impossible to clean up when spilled in bodies of water.

Global, which employs fewer than 40 people at its Albany operations, has hired lobbyists and a public relations firm as public pressure intensified. The company has responded to community concerns about the project with vague project descriptions that refuse to answer any of the most significant questions.

After Albany County Executive Dan McCoy recently imposed a moratorium on the project, Global officials threatened a lawsuit if he attempted to interfere with their operations. After months of community pressure, Global altered its crude-heating project so that it would be constructed in an existing building on the company's 63-acre property and likely subject to less state regulation and less community input.

A Global spokesman did not respond to request for comment on Monday.

The state's letter is a response to community questions and indicate to the company that they will have to be answered before any final approvals are granted. In the five-page letter to the Massachusetts-based company, state officials asked 29 questions that community members and local lawmakers have wanted answered for months. Clarke demanded to know what exactly what types of crude will be brought to New York, what type of liability insurance the company has in the event of a spill or accident, containments procedures for spills and how the company will communicate with first responders and city residents in the case of a large-scale disaster. The state also wants to untangle the complicated questions over the movement of the trains, their ownership and the schedules for delivery.

The regulation of railroads is largely the purview of the federal government. However, a series of high profile explosions and oil train disasters, including one in Canada that killed 47 people last summer, have caused states to respond.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has also issued an executive order that seeks federal assistance on handling the trains and asks for a comprehensive review of New York's ability to handle spills from five state agencies that is due by the end of April. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan recently joined the mayors of Chicago and Philadelphia and other counterparts around the country to request increased federal oversight.

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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.