Albany NY – crude by rail CROSSROADS

Repost from the New York Times

Bakken Crude, Rolling Through Albany


Rail tanker cars roll through Albany on their way to the port.
Credit: Stewart Cairns for The New York Times

ALBANY — On a clear December morning two years ago, a 600-foot oceangoing oil tanker called the Stena Primorsk left the Port of Albany on its maiden voyage down the Hudson River laden with 279,000 barrels of crude oil. It quickly ran aground on a sandbar.

The incident attracted little attention at the time. The ship’s outer hull was breached, but a second hull prevented a spill. Still, the interrupted voyage just 12 miles south of the port signaled a remarkable turnaround for the state’s capital.

With little fanfare, this sleepy port has been quietly transformed into a major hub for oil shipments by trains from North Dakota and a key supplier to refiners on the East Coast.

Hidden in plain sight, Albany’s oil boom has taken local officials and residents by surprise. Many became aware of the dangers of oil trains after a recent series of derailments and explosions, including one that killed 47 people in Quebec last July, which have generated concerns about growing rail traffic into the city. Trains rumble through the heart of Albany every day and often idle along the busy Interstate 787 highway while waiting to get into the port’s rail yards.

“This has caught everyone off guard,” said Roger Downs, a conservation director at the Sierra Club in Albany.

About 75 percent of Bakken oil production travels by rail and as much as 400,000 barrels a day heads to the East Coast, said Trisha Curtis, an analyst at the Energy Policy Research Foundation. Albany gets 20 to 25 percent of the Bakken’s rail exports, according to various analyst estimates.

“Albany has become a big hub,” Ms. Curtis said.

But opposition is starting to form over new plans by one energy company to expand operations here and, possibly, ship crude extracted from the oil sands of Canada into Albany. The company, Global Partners, which pioneered the use of Albany as a crude-oil hub, is also looking at shipping oil from a terminal in New Windsor, just north of West Point.

The rapid growth in the oil-by-rail business is raising alarms. Railroads carried more than 400,000 carloads of crude oil last year, up from 9,500 in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads. Federal regulators have been under pressure to address the industry’s safety and recently outlined a series of voluntary steps, including slowing oil trains in some major urban areas.


These steps are not enough to protect many communities along the rail lines, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said this week. This includes many places in upstate New York, like Buffalo, Rochester, Utica, Syracuse and Albany, that have seen higher rail traffic. He compared the industry’s use of outdated tank cars to “a ticking time bomb” and urged federal regulators to quickly retire these older cars, known as DOT-111s, in favor of models built after 2011 that have better protections.

“The safety regime has to catch up with the reality that there are now hundreds of cars everyone admits could be dangerous if there is a derailment that are hurtling through heavily populated areas of New York State,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Albany’s newfound role did not happen by chance. It has long served as a regional distribution center for heating oil and gasoline to Vermont. It is linked to the Midwest by rail and is close to many of the East Coast’s major refineries. This coincidence of geography and logistics has made it an ideal trans-shipping point for oil produced in the Bakken region, now about 950,000 barrels a day.

“Early on we saw an opportunity to supply East Coast refiners with cost-effective North American crude oil,” said Eric Slifka, the chief executive of Global Partners, which first brought oil by rail to Albany around the end of 2011. The company doubled its oil-handling capacity to 1.8 billion gallons a year, the equivalent of 118,000 barrels a day, in 2012.

Another energy company, Houston-based Buckeye Partners, made a similar calculation and also expanded its capacity for crude oil in Albany in 2012 to one billion gallons a year, up from 400 million gallons. At the time, state regulators at the Department of Environmental Conservation received no public comment.

“The D.E.C. has done all its studies and analyses, but my guess is just that the community doesn’t like the answer,” Mr. Slifka said in an interview. “I think it’s hard to turn back the clock. At the end of the day, the D.E.C. and government agencies have gone into this with their eyes wide open.”

Trains now come into Albany on average twice a day after completing a four-day journey from North Dakota, either through the Canadian Pacific network, via Montreal, or on the CSX rail lines that pass through Buffalo and Syracuse. These mile-long trains, each up to 120 tank cars long, can carry roughly 85,000 barrels of oil.

Once in Albany, the oil goes into giant storage tanks before being loaded onto barges that make daily trips to refineries down the Hudson. Some trains go to Pennsylvania. Every eight days, a bigger tanker, a Bahamas-flagged ship called the Afrodite, which replaced the Stena Primorsk after its accident, picks up oil destined for Irving Oil’s refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick, which produces gasoline for the American market.

“Bakken crude has been a lifeline for the East Coast refineries,” said Lawrence Goldstein, an energy economist.

Richard J. Hendrick, the Port of Albany’s general manager, said the new traffic had been a boon for the port and the longshoremen who work there. Ships still haul scrap metal to Turkey or large electrical components destined for a power plant in Algeria. But the port’s business has been increased by the oil traffic.

“We can do things faster and more safely here,” Mr. Hendrick said.

But hauling oil on rails comes with unanticipated dangers. After an oil train derailed and exploded near Casselton, N.D., late last year, federal regulators warned that Bakken crude oil was extremely volatile. On Tuesday, they ordered shippers to properly test and classify Bakken crude before loading it onto freight trains.

Heading_to_Albany_NYT“Albany is getting a lot of the risk and almost no economic benefits or jobs from this,” said Susan Christopherson, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of City and Regional Planning.

There is not much New York’s officials can do to reduce the flow of oil trains, despite the state’s commitment to low-emission fuels and its opposition to natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Officials acknowledge that they are powerless since railroad commerce is regulated by the federal government.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo nevertheless directed state agencies in late January to review their emergency and spill response plans and report back to him by the end of April. The state’s top environmental and transportation officials met with their federal counterparts last week to discuss the issue.

But there remains considerable uncertainty about how authorities would respond to an accident or a spill in the Hudson River. The Coast Guard conducted a drill in New Windsor last November. The mock event involved the derailment of four train cars and a 50,000-gallon spill in the Hudson from a storage tank.

“We continue to look for ways to improve coordination and response with our federal and local partners and, as directed by Governor Cuomo in his recent executive order, are evaluating the state’s spill prevention, response and inspection program for rail, ship and barge transportation of crude oil and other petroleum products,” said Emily DeSantis, the Department of Environmental Conservation’s spokeswoman.

That is little comfort for a broad coalition of environmental groups, elected city officials and residents, who said state regulators should have better anticipated these risks and are demanding a full review.

Chris Amato, who worked at the D.E.C. from 2007 to 2011 and is now a lawyer at the advocacy group Earthjustice, which is challenging the oil projects, said regulators should have performed a detailed environmental impact study two years ago. “A lot of people are upset that the D.E.C. is still dillydallying,” he said.

Vivian Kornegay, a City Council member, whose district is across from the rail yards and the port, said, “We want a do-over.”

Hundreds of residents attended a public meeting at an elementary school last month, and voiced their concerns over the expansion plans of Global Partners. The meeting focused on a recent application by the company that includes building seven heating units at its rail yard. Some say they believe the company intends to import heavier, dirtier crude from Canada’s oil sands in addition to Bakken crude.

Mr. Slifka, Global’s chief executive, said the heating units were needed to accommodate “any types of U.S. and Canadian crudes that would require heat to be put to them because of the viscosity.”

He added: “Where the crude comes from isn’t necessarily the focus. It’s making sure there is flexibility in the system to take various types of crude.”

Given the new opposition, state officials recently extended the public comment period on Global’s plans until April. They also said they would require the company to be more transparent about its plans, even if it has followed all regulations. The Department of Environmental Conservation is also conducting a review of “all matters pertaining to Global’s operations in New York State,” Ms. DeSantis, the agency’s spokeswoman, said.

“There’s been some clear indications that D.E.C. needs to be a better cop on the beat when it comes to this industry,” said Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, and a former state official in charge of environmental issues. “But we can’t look back in the windshield. The reality is that Albany is now part of the oil patch.”

 A version of this article appears in print on February 28, 2014, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: Bakken Crude, Rolling Through Albany.

Latest crude oil train derailment: Albany, NY, Feb. 28

Repost from the Albany Times Union

Friday’s Albany-area derailment follows rise in crude-oil shipments

Amid heightened attention, oil tankers at Selkirk yard derail without crude spill

By Claire Hughes
Updated 8:24 pm, Saturday, March 1, 2014

Oil tankers parked in the CSX Railyard on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Selkirk, N.Y. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union) Photo: Cindy Schultz

Oil tankers parked in the CSX Railyard on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Selkirk, N.Y. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)


The derailment of 13 tank cars carrying crude oil at the Selkirk rail yard Friday night involved no rollovers, no spills and no injuries, according to shipper CSX and state regulators.

That’s no reason for residents to rest easy, said one industry observer, as the incident comes amid heightened scrutiny of crude oil shipments nationally and locally.

“Given the controversy about crude oil shipments into Albany, you would think that CSX is doing its dead-level best to avoid a derailment,” said Fred Millar, a Virginia-based independent consultant on hazardous material shipments whose clients include cities, trade unions and environmental groups. “Any sign of messing up like this is discomforting … These crude-oil unit trains have been blowing up all over the country.”

The cars derailed about 6:30 p.m. Friday, CSX said Saturday. The Times Union received information from the state Department of Transportation about the event around midnight and first reported it on Saturday.

State Department of Environmental Conservation staff were reportedly also on site Friday evening. A call to DEC Saturday was not returned.

The incident involved a train with two locomotives and 110 rail cars, carrying crude oil from Chicago to Philadelphia. The cars stayed upright and in line with no leaks, CSX said.

All cars were re-railed by 2:30 p.m. Saturday, CSX said. The cause is under investigation, officials said.

The accident was the fourth in the state involving CSX oil tankers since December, according to published reports. On Tuesday, one of three locomotives and a sand-filled car in a 97-car CSX oil train derailed in Ulster, about an hour south of Albany. In December, a CSX crude oil train derailed near Buffalo, but tanker cars remained intact. That was also the case earlier that month when an empty oil train struck a truck that exploded at a crossing in West Nyack, Rockland County.

“Obviously, we’re very concerned,” said DOT spokesman Beau Duffy. “That’s why we did the inspections earlier this week with the governor and why we’re working with the (Federal Railroad Administration) to do these inspections.”

The derailment in Selkirk occurred the same day the Cuomo administration touted an “inspection blitz” last week of oil trains, a rail yard and a terminal at the Port of Albany, but not the Selkirk rail yard. Public concern over the crude oil shipments has been growing as a flood of crude oil is being shipped across the country from North Dakota.

In the last two years, the Port of Albany has become a major shipping point for the oil headed for coastal refineries. Two terminals have state permission to handle 2.8 billion gallons of oil a year.

“Albany has now been unfortunately sort of targeted by the oil industry for a major flow of crude oil across the continent,” Millar said. “It’s like Houston on the Hudson, except with no jobs. You have a lot of the risks, but no jobs.”

Of particular concern for local communities is whether their emergency responders, including volunteer fire departments, are equipped to handle a significant spill.

“Nobody in their right mind would think that they’re prepared for a serious release,” he said.

Selkirk Fire Department Chief Bill Asprion had no information about Friday’s derailment. CSX did not contact the fire company, he said.

The type of tank cars that derailed were DOT-111s. Particular attention has been paid to DOT-111s, a model found to be prone to rupturing during derailments. In Quebec, 47 people died in an explosion last year when DOT-111s derailed. Explosions have occurred in accidents in Alabama and North Dakota.

Last week, state inspectors looked at 120 tanker cars at the Kenwood yard at the Port of Albany, owned by Canadian Pacific Railway. They found instances of defective steel wheels and defective brakes on DOT-111s, the governor’s office said. Inspections of about two miles of Kenwood yard track found 36 defects, including loose rail joints that were “immediately repaired” by CP workers, the governor said.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that a Jan. 20 CSX derailment in Philadelphia was caused by a maintenance crew’s failure to properly anchor temporary fasteners to crossties, an investigation by the railroad found. Although no oil spilled and no one was hurt, the derailment caused concern because it occurred in a densely-populated area.

Benicia Herald covers local opposition to Valero Crude By Rail

Repost from The Benicia Herald
Reporter Donna Beth Weilenman’s excellent coverage of the upcoming Call To Action community meeting, Monday, March 10 at 7pm in the Benicia Library’s Dona Benicia Room.

Opponents of refinery’s rail plan to

by Donna Beth Weilenman

A MEETING of residents opposed to Valero’s proposal to bring crude oil by rail to its Benicia refinery will be held March 10.

A MEETING of residents opposed to Valero’s proposal to bring crude oil by rail to its Benicia refinery will be held March 10.

An organization of Benicia residents and business owners will meet March 10 to air their concerns about the proposed Crude-by-Rail Project that would substitute rail cars for oceanic tanker ships in bringing crude oil into the Valero Benicia Refinery.

The project, which is undergoing environmental analysis, would allow the company, which owns no oil wells, to bring crude oil from domestic sources to the local refinery via Union Pacific Railroad tanker cars.

“A group of Benicia residents have formed an opposition group, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, to give voice to serious concerns and questions as the city considers Valero’s proposal,” said Andres Soto, organizer with Oakland-based nonprofit Communities for a Better Environment.

Founded in 1978, CBE focuses on preventing and reducing pollution and promoting environmental sustainability in minority and low-income communities through educational, legal and technical assistance, according to its website.

Those attending the open meeting in Benicia Public Library will see a video presentation and hear a panel of Bay Area individuals talking about the Valero project, Soto said.

Afterward, the audience will be divided into groups, in which they may ask questions and receive answers and begin to make plans for future activities.

Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community’s website states that the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project “raises serious questions about the health and safety of Benicians and others up-rail and down-wind.”

The rail project is a “reckless opting for profit over preservation,” the group says, and “a short-term grab for cheap, dirty and dangerously explosive oil from North Dakota and Canada.”

It described the proposed daily rail delivery as “two 50-car bomb trains.”

The website allows opponents to support a petition against the project, citing “horrendous resulting explosions” that have occurred after “the recent massive increase in transport of crude oil from Bakken shale fields in North Dakota and tar sands mines in Alberta (Canada).”

The group has called the Bakken shale crude and diluted tar sand bitumen “the last gasp of a dying fossil fuel industry,” and challenged Valero’s contention that safety measures would be in place, including the use of the refinery’s own fire department, which Valero has said would join other emergency agencies to respond to accidents.

The group has asked, “Who will insure against catastrophic loss of the Benicia Bridge, the Benicia Clocktower, the Camel Barn (Benicia Historical Museum), the Historic Arsenal District or AMPORTS and other Industrial Park companies?”

In addition, group members worry that rail car operations would cause minor vapor emissions as well as intentional crude oil venting, causing a greater impact on the environment than oil tanker or pipeline deliveries.

Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community also discounts Valero’s contention that the project would provide many jobs outside its short-term construction.

“But there is absolutely no financial gain for Benicia,” the group argues.

Furthermore, the group argues that neither Valero nor the city are acknowledging crude-by-rail proposals at other Bay Area refineries and their cumulative effects, nor the health and safety of other communities through which these trains would pass.

Valero’s application, originally submitted in December 2012, proposes extending the Union Pacific tracks by a quarter mile to bring in 70,000 barrels of crude each day by train.

This wouldn’t be additional crude to process; rather, the refinery would reduce by the same amount the crude it receives by ship, the application said.

The application, some related documents and lists of others can be viewed on the city website.

While opponents have expressed worries about emissions associated with the off-loading of the crude oil, the applicant and a railroad company spokesperson have said greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced through shipment by rail.

Aaron Hunt, Union Pacific director of corporate relations and media, said, “Rail is the most environmentally friendly means of moving cargo overland. And Union Pacific has been making major investments in our infrastructure to create more value for our customers.”

He also has touted the company’s safety record.

Regarding emissions related to the project, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District must approve the project, and refinery officials have promised to document any changes in air pollution.

This is not Valero’s first attempt to substitute rail cars for oceanic tankers. Bill Day, Valero Energy’s director of corporate communications, said the refining company has been sending North Dakota crude to Louisiana at a rate of 40,000 barrels a day, after which it is delivered by pipeline to Memphis, Tenn.

“That North American crude is being produced in areas that don’t have a lot of pipeline infrastructure yet, so rail is currently the most efficient way to get it to refineries for processing,” Day said.

In fact, domestic crude oil production may reach 8.5 million barrels a day by the end of this year, an increase from 5 million barrels a day in 2008. Most of the increase has come from fracking operations in the Bakken fields, primarily in North Dakota, as well as in Montana and farther north in Canada.

Rail delivery increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 415,000 carloads in 2013, according to industry calculations.

Day has called the project important to keeping the Benicia refinery competitive, saying, “Low-cost North American crude is a tremendous competitive advantage for U.S. refineries that has helped keep domestic refineries operating at high levels and kept American refinery workers on the job.”

He continued, “It would allow the refinery to offset supplies of foreign crude brought in by ship with increasing supplies of North American crude oil.”

However, several crude oil trains have recently experienced highly publicized derailments, some with tragic consequences. In Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, where one train rolled down a hill before slipping off the tracks, the resulting explosion and fire killed 47 people and destroyed 30 buildings in the center of the city.

Several other derailments in the United States caused fires and spills, including in Casselton, N.D., where a conflagration burned more than 24 hours, though no one was reported hurt or killed.

While the U.S. Department of Transportation is working on stiffer rules about crude transport, some rail companies have chosen not to wait, instituting their own increased safety measures.

In the U.S., Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) is the largest train carrier of crude oil. The company announced last month it is voluntarily seeking bids on 5,000 stronger tanker cars specifically for carrying crude oil.

In Canada, both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific have announced increased charges to ship oil in older tanks, and the CEO of Canadian Pacific, Hunter Harrison, has called for the older cars to be removed from crude oil service.

Ed Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads, has urged stronger governmental standards, saying, “We believe there needs to be a safer tank car.”

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which has asked for retrofitting or replacement of the current standard oil car since 1991, said Wednesday the cars carrying Bakken crude are causing an “unacceptable public risk.”

However, the board noted that federal authorities didn’t initiate a new regulation process until 2011.

The person in charge of the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Cynthia Quarterman, has told the board new rules may be written by the end of the year, but couldn’t say when they’d become effective, because the White House must examine them first.

The NTSB has questioned whether upgraded oil cars are strong enough for the job of carrying the sweeter domestic crude, which has a lower ignition point than “sour” Canadian tar sands oil.

The new BNSF cars, designed to that company’s specifications, have been described as stronger than those being discussed by the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, a voluntary agreement has been reached to address oil train safety, though Kevin Thompson, speaking for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), said the pact to increase track and mechanical inspections and to use better brakes was just one step in a larger effort to improve crude-by-rail safety.

In a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo wrote that train accidents, derailments and grade crossing accidents have declined significantly since 2004, despite intermodal freight traffic approaching record-level increases.

Szabo wrote that the FRA is monitoring crude-by-rail shipments, particularly from North Dakota, where accidents have declined in the past three years.

However, after the recent train accidents in the U.S. and Canada, Szabo wrote that the U.S. Department of Transportation, the FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have been taking steps in several areas to reduce risks and assure safe fuel transport — of ethanol and other products, not just crude oil.

He wrote that industry representatives, rail company chiefs and those from the FRA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and PHMSA met Jan. 16 for a “call to action” to develop specific plans to immediately improve crude-by-rail shipments.

In addition, Szabo wrote, they were asked to look at more long-term solutions.

He wrote that tanker cars are just one link in the delivery chain.

“We must identify and evaluate all of the risks associated with bulk movement of hazardous materials, such as ethanol and crude oil, and then work to eliminate those risks,” he wrote.

In addition, he announced the start of an investigation, including unannounced inspections, into how shippers and carriers classify crude oil, particularly Bakken shipments.

“As I have described, rail safety is at an all-time best,” Szabo wrote.

“Yet, these accidents illustrate why we can never be complacent.”

He wrote that human error and track defects are involved in more than two-thirds of all train accidents, and trespassing and highway-rail grade crossing accidents are connected with 95 percent of rail fatalities.

He wrote that positive train control systems, or PTS, would prevent speeding derailments, train-to-train crashes and several other types of accidents.

Other milestones Szabo announced were formal programs for train conductor certification and employee and contractor training; enhanced safety rules; reduction in electronic device distraction; improved track inspection, including assurances that rail inspectors are qualified; and the introduction of new technology to prevent track buckling.

Standards for better railroad grade crossings in 10 states, part of a five-year plan to improve and audit grade crossings and programs to identify situations that could lead to train accidents, also have been introduced, he wrote, and President Barack Obama’s budget calls for developing a coordinated approach to enhance America’s rail system, both for passengers and freight delivery.

Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community’s forum on the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, March 10, in the Doña Benicia Room of Benicia Public Library, 150 East L St.

The meeting is open to the public.

Interview & photos: Marilaine Savard, from Lac-Mégantic, Quebec

17 minute interview of Marilaine Savard by Andrés Soto of KPFA Radio.  Dramatic photos.  Ms. Savard is the spokesperson for a citizens’ group in the region of Lac-Mégantic, Québec.  Last year, a string of exploding petroleum rail cars destroyed the center of the town and claimed 47 lives….

Ms. Savard’s visit with us here in the Bay Area was sponsored by:

In partnership with: Sierra Club, 350 Bay Area, Communities for a Better Environment, Richmond Progressive Alliance, ForestEthics, Pittsburg Defense Council, Pittsburg Ethics Council, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, and the Crockett-Rodeo-Hercules Working Group.

For safe and healthy communities…