New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered state agencies to review the safety and emergency response readiness capabilities related to rail shipments of tar sands oils being shipped through the state.
In his executive order directing the review, Governor Cuomo notes that rail cars are transporting crude oil along 1,000 miles of the state’s rail network. The oil travels from Canada through western New York along the Mohawk River and across the border at Rouses Point along Lake Champlain to the Port of Albany, where it is then transported south to refineries in mid-Atlantic states.
In light of major accidents in other states and Canada, the governor is tasking the NYS Departments of Environmental Conservation, Transportation, Health, NYSERDA and the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to conduct an assessment of response rules and inspection programs related to rail transport of petroleum products.
NYS Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens says the governor has directed his and other agencies to petition federal agencies. “He asked us to petition them, first of all, to upgrade the requirements for tanker cars that are now frequenting rail lines much, much more than they ever have historically. So the first thing is the tanker cars we don’t believe are adequate to carry, most of the tanker cars, aren’t adequate to carry the crude oil safely. New federal regulations need to require those cars to be upgraded. The second thing he asked was also to assess the state’s spill prevention response rules.”
“If we had four airplane accidents in as short a period a time as we’ve had, we’d ground the the airplanes and we’d a complete revisit and recheck of them.” New York 21st District Congressman Bill Owens, like Cuomo, a Democrat, says the actual volume of the volatile crude oil has been requested but has not been provided. He says there are substantial qualities of the oil. “I think we’ve been a little slow in this process. Understanding that it has some negative economic impacts, none-the-less, this clearly has to be dealt with and I’m very happy that the governor has stepped in and is adding more pressure in this situation.”
Owens says there is a need to study the issue, but ultimately federal agencies must impose new rules due to the international aspects of the transport. But the state, he says, can play a crucial role with first responders. “What we’re hearing from first responders is that they are not prepared. They have not been given enough information. They don’t have the techniques that have been, if you will, spread around the system. So this is again something where the state can really step in and help us though.”
Essex County Director of Emergency Services Don Jaquist says the crude oil is being shipped through all the counties bordering Lake Champlain. “The number of shipments have certainly increased. It’s like a pipeline on rails. But I think the real issue is the type of cars they’re using to ship are single-skinned cars that were designed in previous years and they just don’t hold up well under a derailment. And so there’s a move for them to redesign the cars and make them safer.”
Clinton County Director of Emergency Services Eric Day says he has been aware that Canadian Pacific Railroad has been moving crude oil through Clinton County for several years, but not the volume headed to the port of Albany. “If there is a derailment with one of these crude trains, there’s certainly potential there for a fairly large incident. The material is dangerous, without question.”
The state agencies must report on New York’s existing ability to prevent and respond to accidents involving the shipment of the crude oil by rail, ship and barge by April 30th