More action needed to end threat to river and communities from explosions, spills
HUDSON VALLEY—With Global Partners’ withdrawal of applications to construct a new rail yard at its oil terminal in New Windsor, Orange County, Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson marked progress in their ongoing campaign to reduce threats from the virtual pipeline of crude oil running through the Hudson Valley. Although Global Partners might try to resume development of its New Windsor facilities in the future, it has tabled its plans for now, under immense legal and public pressure to do so.
The environmental organizations advocated strongly against the terminal expansion, which would have supported Global’s goal of increasing the amount of volatile Bakken crude oil it transports through the region annually by as much as 1.8 billion gallons. In May the two groups chose the City of Newburgh, adjacent to New Windsor, as the location for their first informational forum about the crude oil threat. More than 100 attendees learned about the risks outdated railcars laden with flammable crude pose to homes, businesses, schools and drinking water supplies located near rail lines along the Hudson’s western shore—over which more than 320 of these cars travel daily.
Expansion of Global’s Albany terminal would allow transport of heavy tar sands crude
Despite Global Partners’ application withdrawal, Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson acknowledge that grave threats of explosions and spills persist—and could get worse. Global continues seeking permits to expand its facility at its Port of Albany terminal so it can process Canadian tar sands crude, which sinks if spilled, making its cleanup virtually impossible.
“Putting Global’s New Windsor expansion plans on the shelf for now reduces the potential for spills at this gateway to the Hudson Highlands—one of America’s true scenic and ecological treasures. But the company continues to pursue permits to expand its facility in Albany that could introduce billions of gallons of dangerous tar sands into the region. A tar sands spill would foul the Hudson for decades, setting back communities’ waterfront revitalization plans and destroying some of the most biologically diverse habitats in the Northeast,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan.
“The withdrawal of Global’s plans to develop a major crude oil export terminal in New Windsor is proof positive that the public outcry and legal actions taken against Global have thrown a wrench into Global’s ambition to turn the Hudson River Valley into a ‘virtual crude oil pipeline.’ As oil production in this country continues to hit new highs, it is now more critical than ever that the public remain vigilant to prevent the Hudson from becoming the next oil spill disaster zone,” said Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper and Hudson Riverkeeper.
Despite railcars with enhanced safety features, serious threats persist
Global Partners also reports it has halted shipments of Bakken crude through the valley in the oldest version of DOT-111 railcars, insisting that all tankers contain enhanced safety features, including a steel shell 1/16-inch thicker than so-called “legacy” DOT-111s. Yet more than 80,000 of these outdated DOT-111s continue transporting Bakken crude and other flammable liquids nationwide—including tankers Buckeye Partners uses to ship crude through the region. Cars like these, which the National Transportation Safety Board admits “can almost always be expected to breach in the event of a train accident,” were involved in the 2013 accident and explosion in Lac Megantic, Canada, that killed 47 people and destroyed half the downtown. Even the CPC-1232 railcars Global now is using pose a substantial risk—a derailment of these tankers in Lynchburg, Va., last April resulted in an explosion and spill into the James River that forced the evacuation of hundreds of people from their homes and caused the City of Richmond to switch drinking-water intakes to a backup supply. “Taking some of the most dangerous railcars off the valley’s tracks is a positive step, but it doesn’t go far enough in ensuring our communities’ safety from potentially catastrophic explosions and spills. Until the federal government compels rail operators to make the strongest possible upgrades, closes loopholes that allow outdated DOT-111s to remain on the rails, and creates regulations regarding emergency notification and response that fully protect our communities, we’ll remain vulnerable to a disaster that could devastate the region’s economy, drinking water and world-class habitats,” said Mr. Sullivan. “As DOT-111 railcars have been banned in Canada, Global had no choice but to comply with that directive and stop its use of the most dangerous DOT-111 railcars for oil transport on the route through Canada to Global’s facility in Albany. Yet, as we have seen in Lynchburg, Virginia, the newer railcars will not prevent catastrophic accidents nor ensure communities are prepared to confront spills. We continue to call on the state and federal governments to take immediate action to protect the public,” said Mr. Gallay.
Groups outline steps needed to halt crude oil threat
Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson have called on the federal government to take steps that would significantly alleviate the valley’s threat from crude oil, including:
- A moratorium on the use of legacy DOT-111s to transport crude and immediate adoption of the most stringent tank car standards;
- Speed restrictions and use of electronic controlled pneumatic braking in all trains carrying crude;
- The closing of loopholes in the rule that leave heavy tar sands crude and trains carrying fewer than 20 cars of Bakken crude completely unaddressed.
In addition the groups are advocating that the valley’s highly important natural resources be designated and avoided where possible—and mitigation measures put in place if not—in the recommended routing analysis recently proposed by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Riverkeeper is a member-supported, watchdog organization dedicated to defending the Hudson River and its tributaries and protecting the drinking water supply of nine million New York City and Hudson Valley residents. www.riverkeeper.org
About Scenic Hudson
Scenic Hudson works to protect and restore the Hudson River and its majestic landscape as an irreplaceable national treasure and a vital resource for residents and visitors. A crusader for the valley since 1963, we are credited with saving fabled Storm King Mountain from a destructive industrial project and launching the modern grass-roots environmental movement. Today with more than 25,000 ardent supporters, we are the largest environmental group focused on the Hudson River Valley. Our team of experts combines land acquisition, support for agriculture, citizen-based advocacy and sophisticated planning tools to create environmentally healthy communities, champion smart economic growth, open up riverfronts to the public and preserve the valley’s inspiring beauty and natural resources. To date Scenic Hudson has created or enhanced more than 65 parks, preserves and historic sites up and down the Hudson River and conserved more than 35,000 acres. www.scenichudson.org