The Record: Oil on the Hudson

The Record (North Jersey) | April 2, 2014 | Op-Ed by The Record


THE SAD, environment-altering saga of the Exxon Valdez was written off the Alaskan coast 25 years ago. The tanker struck a reef in Prince William Sound and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the water, creating an environmental nightmare that took years to clean up. Who knows for sure whether another Exxon Valdez could happen on the Hudson River, but it is something to think about these days as the waterway is busy becoming a vital commerce route for domestic crude oil shipments.

As Staff Writer Scott Fallon reports, as much as 25 million gallons of crude oil per week is now making its way down the Hudson via oil tankers and barges. The steady clip of oil in the last few years mostly originates from the oil boom in North Dakota. It is transported by rail to Albany, N.Y., and then pumped onto several barges and a tanker that travels 145 miles down the Hudson, past Manhattan and through New York Harbor and on eventually to refineries in New Jersey and Canada.

We understand that the shipping of this oil has a great potential for the region's economy. Oil executives say the crude shipments will help stir a still-moribund upstate New York economy, could revitalize refineries along the East Coast and eventually will bring down the price of gas.

Yet, as anyone old enough to remember the Exxon Valdez disaster can attest, it takes only one large-scale accident to make a catastrophic environmental event. As The Record reports, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration approved the rapid expansion of crude oil processing in Albany and is now calling for development of better emergency response plans in the case of spills.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the rapid increase in oil barge traffic seems hardly to have been noticed by state environmental officials, despite the fact that those barges pass several of the state's most densely populated municipalities.

One ship making the crude oil runs is the Bahamian-flagged tanker Afrodite, which carries as much as 9.6 million gallons of crude down the Hudson and up the Atlantic to a refinery in Saint John in the Canadian province of New Brunswick every eight to 10 days. Counted along with an average of 3.2 million gallons daily by barges from Albany, that calculates to more than 1 billion gallons of crude that could be shipped down the Hudson in a year.

The specter of so much oil being shipped down the river has set off alarms in the environmental community, especially in light of the tremendous rehabilitation efforts recently to reclaim the once severely polluted waterway. Sure, there is some comfort knowing that by 2015, oil tankers that serve U.S. ports will be required to have a double hull, but New Jersey officials should be doing more.

With so many crude shipments coming down the Hudson, the risk of a spill is a real one. There has been one accident already, in December 2012, when a tanker ran aground about seven miles out of Albany. The tanker's outer hull was ruptured, but its inner hull was not breached, so none of its 12 million gallons of oil spilled.

We might not always be so lucky. Emergency plans for possible spills should have been on the books months ago in both New York and New Jersey. At Cuomo's urging, New York now seems to be moving toward a comprehensive response protocol. New Jersey environmental officials should be doing the same.

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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.