Last night, at Hudson Basilica, at a community meeting organized by the Hudson Sloop Club and called "The Future of Oil on the Hudson," Hudson and Althea Mullarkey of Scenic Hudson talked about the risks posed by the "virtual pipeline" that transports crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through the Hudson Valley to refineries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Gossips readers are already familiar with much of the basic information about the virtual pipeline. It was presented back in March in the Riverkeeper webinar, "Preventing a Crude Oil Spill on the Hudson." That webinar can still be viewed online. Last night some new information and statistics were presented that merit repeating here.
Every month, 189 million gallons of crude oil move through the Hudson Valley--by water and by rail. A barge loaded with 4 million gallons of crude oil leaves the Port of Albany every day, and once a week the tanker Afrodite, carrying 8 million gallons of crude oil, heads down the river. Meanwhile every day, two trains made up of from 80 to 120 tanker cars each roll down the west side of the river. All of this oil is Bakken crude oil--highly volatile and extremely difficult to clean up. It is estimated that a successful clean up of a Bakken spill would only capture only 20 to 25 percent of the oil spilled.
In December 2012, the oil tanker Stena Primorsk, carrying 6 million gallons of Bakken crude, ran aground on its maiden voyage two miles north of Stuyvesant. Fortunately, the Stena Primorsk is a double hull ship. The accident pierced the outer hull, but no oil spilled into the river.
|Michael P. Farrell/Times Union|
The DOT-111 tanker cars carrying Bakken crude by rail are another story. They were not designed to carry volatile liquids. They were designed, Mullarkey revealed last night, to carry corn oil. When they derail, they split open, with disastrous consequences.
|Luann Hunt/City of Lynchburg|
Last night, Hudson and Mullarkey presented a diagram based on the data from the Lac-Megantic disaster and from another derailment that occurred in Casselton, North Dakota, that showed what could happen if one of the two trains passing through the Village of Catskill every day were to derail. According to this model, the wind carrying toxic fumes would necessitate the evacuation of most of Hudson.
As a consequence of the Lac-Megantic disaster, Mullarkey and Hudson reported, the Canadian government has banned DOT-111 cars, but the U.S. Department of Transportation has been unwilling to take that action. Mullarkey predicted that the cars that can no longer be used in Canada will not be retired but will end up being used in the U.S.
As if all this weren't frightening enough, Mullarkey and Hudson explained that the emergency response capacity to deal with a crude oil disaster does not exist. Apparently, there is a response plan for the Hudson River, but it hasn't been updated in ten years--certainly not since hundreds of millions of gallons of Bakken crude started being transported on the river. As Mullarkey noted, when the Stena Primorsk ran aground, the emergency responders trained to deal with the situation had to come from Massachusetts. She also pointed out that every company involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster declared bankruptcy, leaving the community and the Canadian government to pay for the cleanup.
When the train carrying Bakken crude derailed in Lynchburg, it was revealed that city officials and emergency responders had no idea that crude oil was passing through their city on that day. Because of this situation, a federal directive was issued in May, a few weeks after the incident, requiring CSX and other U.S. railroads to disclose to local emergency responders the routes the trains would take and the amount of oil they would be carrying. CSX then turned around and asked the states--New York among them--to keep this information secret from the public, in the interest of home security. Two months later, Hudson reported, the NYS Office of Emergency Management is still thinking about whether or not they want to keep the information secret. An editorial in the Poughkeepsie Journal on July 7, which called on the Office of Emergency Management to make the information public, concluded: "The public does have a right to know about the extent of these shipments, key information to make better assessments about the dangers and what the state and industry are doing, and need to do, to mitigate them."
Right now, the only crude oil passing through the Hudson Valley is Bakken crude, but it is possible that tar sands crude oil from Canada could also be transported on the river. Tar sands crude oil is thick and heavy, described by Mullarkey as the consistency of peanut butter. In order to be transferred from one vessel to another, it has to be heated to lower its viscosity. Global Partners, one of the companies moving crude oil through the Hudson Valley, has an application before the Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit to heat tar sands oil at their facility at the Port of Albany so it can be transferred from rail cars to barges and tankers for the trip down the Hudson. The public comment period for this application ends on August 1, and Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson are urging residents of the Hudson Valley to call on DEC to do a full environmental review of the impacts this action will have on the Hudson River. Information about submitting comments is provided on the DEC website.
Letters urging DEC to study fully the risks of the virtual pipeline "by performing a complete environment impact review of all relevant pending and previously granted permits" can be sent electronically at the Riverkeeper website.
COPYRIGHT 2014 CAROLE OSTERINK