Tag Archives: Essex County NY

Adirondack rail line marketed for long-term storage of obsolete oil tankers

Repost from the Times Union, Albany NY

Adirondack rail line marketed for long-term storage of obsolete oil tankers

Environmentalists see Adirondacks ”graveyard”

By Brian Nearing, August 7, 2015 Updated 6:33 am
Oil train cars in the Port of Albany on Wednesday April 22, 2015 in Albany, N.Y. (Michael P. Farrell/Times Union) Photo: Michael P. Farrell
Oil train cars in the Port of Albany on Wednesday April 22, 2015 in Albany, N.Y. (Michael P. Farrell/Times Union) Photo: Michael P. Farrell

TAHAWUS — To the dismay of environmental groups, a railway company potentially is going to store hundreds of emptied-out crude oil tankers on its rail line in the Adirondacks.

The Saratoga and North Creek Railroad initially planned to use its tracks to haul rock from a mine in the High Peaks, but that has not panned out. Now, the owners see a new source of cash from storage of aging oil tankers that don’t meet current Canadian and proposed new U.S. safety standards, and will await either retrofitting or scrapping.

Parent company Iowa Pacific Holdings has already begun to market its line for tanker storage, but questions remain over whether state permits will be required. On Thursday, spokesmen for both the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency said the situation was being “researched” and declined further comment.

Last month, Iowa Pacific Holdings President Ed Ellis told a panel of Warren County lawmakers that his company believes it needs no outside permission to begin storing the tankers along the Essex County portion of the line and was informing the county merely as a courtesy.

The 30-mile line, which runs from North Creek to near Tahawus in the High Peaks, is owned by Warren County in Warren and Saratoga counties, and leased by the railroad since 2010. The tracks in Essex County are owned by the railroad.

Ellis told county lawmakers that his company could store hundreds of tanker cars on a section of track in Essex County called the Sanford Lake line that runs along the Hudson and Boreas rivers.

He said the tankers would contain only oil residue and pose a “virtually non-existent” risk of explosion or fire. “We have been storing tanker cars on our line in Colorado for nine years without a problem,” Ellis said.

“This opens up a lot of profound questions,” said Roger Downs, conservation director of the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club, which in 2012 had unsuccessfully opposed a federal ruling to reopen the line, which had been closed since 1989, to freight traffic.

“We would hope that the Adirondack Park Agency and local authorities have some local control. We are completely opposed to this plan,” said Downs. Some 13 miles of track run through the forever-wild state Forest Preserve.

Peter Bauer, executive director of the conservation group Protect the Adirondacks, said jurisdiction over potential mass tanker storage was complex. “And no one can say how long those tankers might be there,” he added. “It could potentially be a railroad graveyard.”

Bauer also said the rail line runs through newly acquired state land that once belonged to the Finch Pruyn paper company. “Was this kind of use what the governor had in mind when he supported that purchase?” Bauer asked.

A call to Ellis’ office for comment was not returned. Last week, he said new and proposed regulations could shelve much of an 80,000-car tanker fleet and require that the tankers be stored for years while they await either retrofitting to meet tougher standards or are scrapped.

Canada just required tank cars must have double hulls to reduce the risk of explosions and fires in derailments. U.S. rules were also recently announced.

In addition to its Adirondack line, Iowa Pacific Holdings is also offering other rail lines in California, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon and Texas for tanker storage, according to the company website.

In 2012, Iowa Pacific purchased the rail line from NL Industries, which had stopped mining at Tahawus in the 1980s. Since then, the company has spent millions to replace rails and ties, rehabilitate track sidings and add rock ballast.

Iowa Pacific is a privately held, Chicago-based operator of nine U.S. railroads, manages two rail lines in the United Kingdom and runs other rail-related businesses.

Ellis told county lawmakers that the tanker car storage revenue in the Adirondacks could eventually be worth “seven figures” a year to the railroad.

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    Albany NY Area officials say crude-oil transport is getting safer

    Repost from The Press Republican, Plattsburgh, NY
    [Editor: the safety improvements showcased here are far from adequate, nevertheless, it’s a good update on conditions in New York.  Sen. Schumer is absolutely right – the DOT-111 tank cars should be taken out of service immediately… and not just in New York.  And Bakken crude should be stabilized before it is transported (not just conditioned) … just as it is in Texas.  – RS]

    Area officials say crude-oil transport is getting safer

    Lohr McKinstry, December 6, 2014

    LEWIS — New state regulations on crude-oil trains should help make them safer, Emergency Services officials from Essex and Clinton counties said recently.

    State agencies have implemented 66 actions designed to strengthen standards, regulations and procedures to make the transport of crude oil by rail and water in New York safer and to improve spill preparedness and response.

    Gov. Andrew Cuomo received a status report outlining the progress made by multiple state agencies after they were directed to evaluate the state’s capacity to prevent and address crude-oil accidents.

    Local leaders have been concerned about the 100-car-plus oil trains moving through Clinton and Essex counties as the crude oil extracted in North Dakota arrives via Canadian Pacific Railway trains.

    The oil is on its way to the Port of Albany, where it is stored for transport to various refineries.

    IMPROVEMENTS

    Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said he sees the new procedures as a safety benefit to the North Country.

    “It’s a step in the right direction,” he told the Press-Republican. “We’re in a better position than we were a year ago.”

    There’s been concern the trains could derail, and the oil burn or explode, as it has in other regions, and Jaquish praised Canadian Pacific for trying to make the tracks and tank cars safer.

    “Upgrading the DOT-111 tank cars, rail replacement and maintenance, and specialized training are all beneficial to safety.

    “Canadian Pacific has been helping us with training, hands-on-experience, that first responders need for these situations.”

    EVACUATION PRACTICE

    The tank cars are not owned by Canadian Pacific but by oil companies and vendors, and as a federal common carrier, the railroad is required to transport them.

    Both the railroad and federal regulators have pushed for upgrades to the DOT-111 single-shell cars or a switch to the stronger DOT-109 or 112 cars.

    “In almost any situation we get, we will be doing evacuations,” Jaquish said. “We’ve been working with Clinton County on planning and implementation.”

    Clinton County Emergency Services Director Eric Day said any improvements to the transport of oil cars are welcome.

    “At the end of the day, what they’ve done is good, no question,” Day told the Press-Republican. “Any regulatory move to make the DOT-111 cars safer is a plus. It’s a long time coming.”

    One problem is that there are thousands of DOT-111 tank cars still in service, he said.

    “There are so many of them (DOT-111 cars) out there on the tracks. They’re not going to stop moving the oil before they fix the cars. The oil is not going to stop coming any time soon.”

    STATE GUIDANCE

    Day said enhanced state regulations on oil shipments will be helpful.

    “If there are changes that are pushed upon them (shippers), it can only make it safer. We’ve seen some of the benefits of the state’s work with regard to planning,” he said.

    “We have guidance now on firefighting potential on dealing with these things. There are so many variables. Multiple cars of this crude oil on fire are a different animal.”

    He said that, thanks to a donation, they now have the foam needed for such fires. The expensive product costs $30,000 for 1,000 gallons of foam but puts out crude-oil-based fires.

    VOLATILE GAS

    The North Dakota Industrial Commission has proposed draft regulations to remove the volatile gases from the oil before it is shipped, and Day said that provision is a good one.

    “One of the things that makes the Bakken crude so volatile are the gases in the oil. The gas works its way out and is stuck in the head space of the car. If they breech, there’s flammable gas; cars that aren’t breeched and heat up, the gas could expand and be a problem.

    “Removing that gas is a possibility before they put in the cars and ship it. If they could do that, it’s a big win.”

    FEDERAL ROLE

    Cuomo called for the federal government to mandate tank-car upgrades or replacement.

    “The federal government plays a vital role in regulating this industry, and Washington must step up in order to expedite the implementation of safer policies and rules for crude-oil transport,” he said in the release.

    The governor said the oil-production industry has resisted stronger tank-car standards and regulations requiring companies to reduce the volatility of crude before shipment.

    A new report from the Brattle Group for the Railroad Supply Institute, a trade group, showed that a proposed federal rule to upgrade rail-tank cars could cost $60 billion.

    According to the report, the high price tag is largely due to the costs associated with potential modifications to tank cars, early retirement of existing tank cars, temporarily using trucks instead of rails for transport and lost service time for tank cars under modification or awaiting modification.

    ‘TIME BOMBS’

    U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) has also come out against use of DOT-111 cars.

    “These outmoded DOT-111 tank cars … are ticking time bombs that need to be upgraded ASAP,” the senator said in a news release.

    “That is why for two years, since the tragedy at Lac-Megantic, I have pushed federal regulators to phase out and retrofit these cars.

    “As a result of our efforts, the federal Department of Transportation has put a proposal on the table that could start taking these cars off the tracks within two years, as well as restrict the speeds at which these trains operate.”

    On July 6, 2013, a 74-tank-car train carrying Bakken light crude derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and the tank cars exploded, killing 47 people, destroying 30 buildings and spilling 1.5 million gallons of heavy crude oil.

    That disaster was followed by oil-train-explosion derailments in Alabama, North Dakota, Illinois and New Brunswick, Canada.

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