North Country News
12:45 pm
Thu May 1, 2014

Governor Requests Federal Action On Crude Oil Rail Transport

DOT 111 rail car
DOT 111 rail car
Credit Harvey Henkelmann/Wikimedia Commons

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has written to President Obama requesting immediate action to enhance rail safety as the state experiences a boom in rail transport of explosive Bakken crude oil.

The Bakken oil field encompasses nearly 25,000 square miles in North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Since 2000, hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota has produced 852 million barrels and in Montana 151 million barrels — marking more than one billion barrels of production. According to an Associated Press report, Oklahoma-based Continental Resources, the biggest Bakken leaseholder, says two-thirds of production has occurred in the past three years.

As production spiked, pipelines have been unable to handle the volume and there has been more reliance on rail transport. A key corridor is in New York leading to the Port of Albany.

In late January, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order directing state agencies to evaluate the state’s ability to prevent and respond to crude oil accidents. That report was issued on Wednesday.  In conjunction with the report, Governor Cuomo wrote to President Obama requesting immediate action by federal agencies to deal with the transport of the more volatile and explosive Bakken crude.

Riverkeeper Hudson River Program Director and Senior Attorney Philip Musegaas says it’s a critical public safety move, but the report and actions taken do not go far enough. He notes that the DOT 111 rail cars are the same involved in the Lynchburg, VA derailment and explosion April 30th and are the same type used for shipment across New York.  “Because of the imminent nature of the risk that is posed by these train cars we are calling on Governor Cuomo to support our request and our call to the federal government to the Department of Transportation to issue an emergency order banning the use of these DOT-111 rail cars. The federal government, federal agencies, have the authority to take emergency action when there is an imminent safety risk. We certainly have that in this situation. But the government is moving extremely slowly to even write new regulations requiring a different type of car. We need quicker action.”

Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan joined Riverkeeper’s praise of the governor’s action, but agrees that more steps must be taken.  “We’re particularly concerned about the potentially devastating impacts of a spill along the Hudson River and in communities through which the trains travel. So we’re pleased that the Governor has taken a comprehensive look at this and we join him in calling on President Obama. Immediate action by the Secretary of Transportation is crucial to eliminate the use of DOT 111 rail cars in transporting this highly volatile fuel. The time for  action is now.”

Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth calls the recommendations in the report and planned actions by the governor a major step forward in beginning to tackle the problem of crude oil shipments by rail.  “Given the rate at which these derailments and ruptures are occuring and the fact that there are so many trains that are criss-crossing New York State carrying flammable Bakken crude it’s inevitable. We’ve already had derailments in Kingston and near the Selkirk yards. It’s really inevitable that we’ll have an episode like Lynchburg. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of  when.”

At the same time Cuomo was releasing the report, Global Partners announced that as of June 1st, it will only accept trains consisting of cars that are more resistant to puncturing and leakage at the Port of Albany. Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Peter Iwanowitz says it’s obvious why the company would announce this during a public relations crisis.  “They did not choose a standard that was the most protective or most modern. They chose one that would be a little bit better than the current situation, but didn’t go so far as to say it has to be the best or the gold standard of what’s being contemplated.”

Calls to Global Partners’ representative were not returned in time for this broadcast. A link to the governor’s crude oil transportation safety report is available here.

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