Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Hudson as Virtual Pipeline

On Wednesday, Gossips spent an hour listening to a Riverkeeper webinar entitled "Preventing a Crude Oil Spill on the Hudson." An enormous amount of information was presented in the webinar by Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director, and Kate Hudson, Watershed Program Director--all of it frightening, for the Hudson River and for the people and the communities along its banks. Gossips summarizes that information with the goal of inspiring you to listen for yourself to the recorded version of the webinar, now online.

Photo credit: Capt. John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper
Crude oil is currently being transported by train along the west side of the Hudson River. Crude oil has never been moved through the Hudson Valley before, and what is being transported now are new types of crude oil. One type is Bakken crude, the product of fracking in North Dakota. This oil is volatile, very explosive and very unstable. Railroad workers call trains carrying Bakken crude "bomb trains." Two of these bomb trains--80 to 120 cars filled with nothing but crude oil and moving at 50 miles an hour--travel down the west side of the Hudson every day. The other type of crude oil comes from the Canadian tar sands. This oil is heavy, like asphalt, and impossible to clean up. According to Musegaas, it represents "a whole different dimension of environmental impact."

The notion of the Hudson as a "virtual pipeline" came to Gossips' notice at the beginning of February when Environmental Advocates warned of a plan to turn Albany into a transfer point where crude oil would be moved from railroad cars onto tankers and barges for the journey down the Hudson. What is being proposed is a facility to heat tar sand crude oil to make it less viscous and more liquid to make the transfer possible. There is also a plan to establish a similar transfer facility in the Town of New Windsor, just outside Newburgh.

Having these bomb trains traveling alongside the Hudson River, carrying Bakken crude in tanker cars that are inadequate for this volatile crude oil (85 percent of the 92,000 tankers cars currently being used have been determined to be unsafe), crossing over Hudson tributaries on bridges that are old and in need of repair, seems bad enough, but the possibility of oil being transported by ship and barge on the Hudson River would be even worse. There is now no way to clean up a crude oil spill on the upper Hudson, and even if the response capabilities existed (and they don't), the best that could be expected would be 15 to 20 percent recovery for Bakken crude, which floats, and 5 percent recovery for tar sands crude, which sinks in water. Riverkeeper is taking the position that the only way to protect the Hudson River is to prevent the transport of crude oil by barge and ship on the river. 

Photo credit: Dana Gulley, Riverkeeper
The transport of crude oil through the Hudson Valley started without official scrutiny or public notice, but in the past couple of months, things have changed. On March 24--the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill--the Department of Environmental Conservation, prompted by the attention being paid by the public, sent a letter to Global Partners, the company proposing the transfer facilities in Albany and New Windsor, informing them that they had not provided enough information and their permits would not be processed until adequate information was provided. The letter was simultaneously released to the press in Albany and Newburgh. Brian Nearing reported on it in the Times Union: "State demands detail on Albany port oil project."

Gossips urges readers to educate themselves on this issue and learn how to take action by listening to the Riverkeeper webinar.


  1. Thank you Gossips, for passing all this information along. Far too easy to ignore.So very important to listen and pay attention to, now.Get involved.Each one of us can make a difference.If not now, when?

  2. Thank you for reporting on this Carol, this definitely deserves continued investigation.