Tag Archives: Hudson River Valley

Video: Bomb Trains on the Hudson River

Repost from HudsonRiverAtRisk.com
[Editor:  Another excellent regional video about the potential for horrific environmental impacts due to crude by rail.  We are doing our best to guarantee that the marshlands, valleys, cities and towns of Northern California don’t become the next Hudson River Valley, transporting billions of gallons of Bakken Crude every year.  – RS]

BOMB TRAINS ON THE HUDSON – BAKKEN SHALE COMES TO THE RIVER

By Jon Bowermaster, July 13, 2015

The sight of long trains made up of one hundred-plus black, cylindrical cars, rolling slowly through cities and towns across North America – often within yards of office buildings, hospitals and schools — has become commonplace.

Few who see them know that these sinister-looking cars carry a highly flammable mixture of gas and oil from the shale fields of North Dakota. At thirty thousand gallons per car, each of these trains carries more than three million gallons of highly flammable and toxic fuel, earning them the nickname “bomb trains.”

I see them on a daily basis in the Hudson Valley, whether stacked up four-deep alongside the thruway in Albany, crossing an aging trestle bridge in Kingston, rolling behind strip malls and health care facilities in Ulster, paralleling the very edge of the Hudson River. Several of the long, ominous-looking trains snake south from Albany to refineries in Philadelphia every day, crossing New Jersey, paralleling Manhattan.

And this oil/gas combo is not just moving by rail: Last year three billion gallons of crude that arrived in Albany by train from the North Dakota were offloaded to tanks and then barges to be shipped downriver. The very first tanker carrying crude oil ran aground, a dozen miles south of the Port of Albany; thankfully its interior hull was not breached.

The boom in this train traffic – in 2009 there were 9,000 of the black rail cars, today there are more than 500,000 – correlates directly with the boom in fracking of gas and oil across the U.S. Record amounts of both are being pulled out of the ground in the Dakotas, Colorado, Texas and thirty other states and needs to be delivered to refineries. Pipelines take time to build and often run into community resistance; since there are railways already leading in every direction the oil and gas industry has taken them over. In 2010, 55,000 barrels of crude oil were shipped by rail each day in the U.S.; today it is more than 1 million barrels … per day.

During the same period there’s been another corollary, a boom in horrific railway accidents resulting in derailments, spills, fires and explosions. Sometimes they occur near fragile wetlands (Aliceville, AL, November 2013); sometimes in neighborhoods where hundreds must be evacuated (Casselton, ND, December 2013); and sometimes in the middle of a town (Lac-Megantic, Quebec, July 2013, where 47 people were killed in a midnight derailment).

Since February 14 a half-dozen of these “bomb trains” have derailed and spilled or exploded, in Illinois, Ontario and West Virginia, leaving widespread destruction and environmental damage in their wake. A half-mile on either side of the tracks is considered within the “blast zone” when these fuel-laden trains crash. Increasingly they are mentioned as potential terrorist weapons.

bomb_train_accidents_2013-2015Efforts to regulate this explosion of shipping by rail has proven difficult. It seems that no one wants to accept the responsibility (or costs) of improving the safety of the cars, the tracks, the infrastructure they run over or the volatile fuel. On May 2 the Department of Transportation issued some new rules and regulations regarding the speed trains can travel at through communities, required updated and safer rail cars and more, but most of the proposed changes don’t take effect for many years. Environmental advocates are not hopeful for much quick change given the powerful lobbying efforts of the gas, oil and rail industries.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has previously said there was little the state could do to slow the traffic, but even he is concerned about the possibility of accident; last month the governor’s office issued a complaint after investigating train cars coming into Albany and citing 84 “defects.”

Opposition to new safety rules comes despite that the D.O.T. estimates that if this pace of shipping continues there will be fifteen major accidents every year and one of the enormity of Lac-Megantic (47 people killed) every two years.

“Even if new measures are adopted,” says Roger Downs, an Albany-based attorney with the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, “it still feels like a half-baked plan to address a wholly inappropriate way to move oil.”

 

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    NRDC Attorney: The tar sands invasion that can be stopped

    Repost from NRDC Switchboard, Danielle Droitsch’s Blog

    The tar sands invasion that can be stopped

    Danielle Droitsch
    Danielle Droitsch, senior attorney with NRDC, Canada Project Director, International Program.

    By Danielle Droitsch, April 28, 2015

    Many across the United States are aware of the tar sands threat posed by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline but what many may not know is the U.S. faces a looming threat that is bigger than just this one pipeline. We call it a tar sands invasion. The plan would be to complete a network of pipelines (both new and expanded), supertankers and barges, and a fleet of explosive railway tank cars. What is at risk? San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, the Great Lakes, the Hudson River and other places we all call home. While the threat of this invasion is already here with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the good news is that citizens across North America are rising up to respond and repeal the assault with a clear message: Not by pipeline, not by rail, not by tanker. The good news is that public opposition to tar sands oil is rising and projects like Keystone XL and Northern Gateway have been delayed. The tar sands assault is not inevitable. In fact, the U.S. doesn’t need this dirty form of fuel and neither does Canada. The time has come to limit tar sands expansion in favor of a cleaner and brighter energy future.

    Tar Sands Invasion Map 4-27-15.jpg

    A new report released by NRDC reveals that the amount of tar sands crude moving into and through the North American West Coast could increase by more than 1.7 million barrels per day if industry proposals for pipelines, tankers and rail facilities move forward. For more information about this new information see posts by my colleagues Anthony Swift and Josh Axelrod. Why the west coast? With the majority of the world’s heavy oil refinery capacity, the United States including the west coast is a critical market for the tar sands industry. To be clear, Keystone XL still remains at the heart of the industry plan to expand tar sands and gain access to the global market. But industry is still pushing hard for other ways to expand especially as KXL flounders. It is important to keep in mind the tar sands industry – which currently produces about 2 million barrels per day (bpd) – plans to triple production to exceed 6 million bpd in the next fifteen years. The oil industry has made clear it needs all of its rail and pipeline proposals to achieve its massive production goals.

    We know that the tar sands industry and Canadian government has long had a plan to quadruple or more tar sands extraction in Canada. KXL has always been a huge part of that. But it is now very clear that they also plan to access the U.S. and global market through every means possible.

    This threatened invasion puts our communities, waters, air and climate in jeopardy. The Tar Sands Solutions Network has done an outstanding job outlining many of the different campaigns that are emerging across North America. This plan threatens to expose communities from California to New York to health, safety and environmental risks unless the public rallies to stop it. Here are some of the specific impacts that North America faces as a result of the tar sands invasion:

    • Across the West Coast, tar sands laden tanker and barge traffic could increase twenty-five fold, with a projected 2,000 vessels along the Pacific West Coast– including the Salish Sea and the Columbia River–shipping nearly two million barrels of tar sands crude every day.
    • A dozen proposed rail terminals would substantially increase tar sands by rail traffic going through densely populated American citizens like Los Angeles and Albany New York risking explosive derailments of hazardous crude unit trains
    • Nearly a million barrels of tar sands would be destined for California and Washington refineries, exposing fenceline communities in Anacortes, San Francisco and Los Angeles to increasing toxic air pollution.
    • In the Midwest, the pipeline company Enbridge is moving to nearly double the flow of tar sands moving through the Great Lakes region, an area that already has suffered from a 2010 spill of more than 800,000 gallons of the tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan sending hundreds of residents to the hospital. Four years later, the cleanup, which has cost more than $1 billion, is still unfinished.
    • On the East Coast, the tar sands industry is seeking to build the Energy East pipeline across Canada. The pipeline would run from Alberta east across Canada to New Brunswick and Quebec, carry 1.1 million barrels of tar sands oil per day and require hundreds of oil tankers traveling along the East Coast and Gulf Coast annually, through critical habitat of the extremely endangered Right Whale.
    • In Albany, New York, a proposed oil transfer facility could lead to the shipment of tar sands oil on barges down the Hudson River or rail cars along the river destined for facilities in the New Jersey and Philadelphia areas.
    • In Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, the constant threat of a proposed reversal of the aging Portland-Montreal Pipeline is likely to arise again as Enbridge completes work on a pipeline reversal that will connect the tar sands directly to Montreal this summer.
    • This network of pipelines will feed refineries that produce millions of tons of hazardous petroleum coke waste – known as “petcoke” – which are piling up in residential neighborhoods like Chicago.
    • In Canada, pipeline companies are trying to access the west and east costs with pipeline proposals that would ship the heavy tar sands oil across pristine landscapes in British Columbia or across the Prairies into Ontario and Quebec. Communities are raising concerns about the threat of a spill to waters from the pipeline or tankers leaving the Bay of Fundy of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
    • And last but not least, communities in Alberta at ground zero have been facing the enormous consequences of tar sands development which has brought about significant contamination of water, air, and land. Increasingly, there are calls for a moratorium on development.

    Targeting at risk communities

    The tar sands invasion puts a high toll on low-income and aboriginal communities located in railway corridors, near oil refineries, and next to petcoke waste sites. In refinery fence-line communities, emissions associated with tar sands are suspected to be even more detrimental to human health than existing harmful emissions from conventional crude. Derailments of tar sands unit trains – mile long trains carrying over a hundred tankers full of explosive tar sands crude – pose a catastrophic risk for communities throughout the country. And as more tar sands oil is refined in the United States, the public will also face increased health and environmental risks from massive piles of petroleum coke, a coal-like waste full of heavy metals that results from tar sands oil refining and can cause serious damage to the respiratory system.

    Industry would like for you to believe that tar sands development is inevitable and there is nothing that can be done. Wherever they turn today they are being faced with public opposition. Expansion is not inevitable, especially because of this growing and formidable opposition.

    A climate problem

    It is clear that tar sands reserves – some of the world’s most carbon intensive – are at the top of the list of reserves that must remain in the ground. Mounting scientific and economic analysis shows that the tar sands industry’s proposed expansion plan is incompatible with global efforts to address climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that 75% or more of discovered fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground in order to limit warming to the international two degrees Celsius goal. The clear inconsistency between tar sands expansion and efforts to address climate change have made opposition to tar sands expansion projects a clear rallying point for a broad group of allies advocating for action on climate.

    A water problem

    A tar sands spill from train, pipeline, or tanker could devastate local economies, pristine wilderness, harm human health, and lead to an especially costly and challenging cleanup. Tar sands spills have proven more damaging than conventional spills, as heavy tar sands bitumen sinks below the water surface making it difficult to contain or recover. A spill from shipping the tar sands crude could devastate communities, contaminate freshwater supplies or marine habitats and damaging local economies.

    Undermining efforts to grow our clean energy economy

    The growing exploitation of Alberta’s tar sands threatens to undermine North American efforts to build a clean energy economy and combat global climate change. Because most tar sands crude is destined for the United States, its expansion would create a greater dependence on the world’s dirtiest crude oil and undermine our transition to environmentally sustainable energy and a cleaner transportation fleet. Responding to the tar sands invasion will require solutions reduce fossil fuel use and spur low-carbon transportation and energy solutions such as broadened electric vehicle use and development of renewable and clean fuels.

    This tar sands invasion can be stopped: Clean Transportation Solutions

    The good news is this tar sands invasion can be stopped starting with leadership from government officials to embrace climate and sustainable transportation solutions. NRDC’s report for the west coast outlines detailed recommendations for decision-makers at all levels. The first step is for decision-makers at all levels to become familiar with the unique issues associated with tar sands oil and then to actively identify the full range of solutions to confront this problem. Without action, the U.S. will unintentionally become a thoroughfare for this oil undermining climate policies and presenting risks to communities and water. With support for regional clean energy policies, we can prevent the influx of tar sands crude and build the green infrastructure and public support necessary to begin transitioning to a clean energy economy.

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      New York Times op ed video: A Danger on Rails

      Repost from The New York Times
      [Editor:  This is another good locally-based video, this time focusing on crude-by-rail in the Albany NY region.  We have seen similar professional quality videos featuring the Pacific Northwest (by Columbia Riverkeeper and VICE News) and an Inside Climate News / Weather Films documentary, “Boom” that is broad in scope, focusing in on a bridge in Alabama.  We need someone to create a prime time video documenting the looming threat of increasing oil trains here in our beautiful California, focusing not only on safety concerns, but also on the part our corporate decisions will play – or won’t play – in the desolation of land in Alberta Canada and the Upper Midwest and the massive release of toxic fossil fuel chemicals that contribute to climate change.  – RS]

      ‘A Danger on Rails’

      This short documentary warns about the dangers posed by trains that transport explosive oil across North America.

      Op-Docs, by Jon Bowermaster, April 21, 2015 

       

      In recent years, small towns across the United States have begun hosting an increasingly common phenomenon: long trains, made up of 100-plus black cylindrical cars, rolling slowly past our hospitals, schools and homes.

      Few who see them know what they carry: highly flammable crude oil from the shale fields around North Dakota.

      I live in the Hudson Valley and see these trains daily; Albany is a major hub, and trains traveling south down the Hudson River toward mid-Atlantic refineries hug its shores. Every day on the East Coast, as many as 400,000 barrels of this explosive mixture travel through our backyards over shaky bridges, highways and overpasses.

      As this Op-Doc video shows, there are reasons to be very concerned about this increased train traffic, which is directly related to the boom in oil and gas drilling in the Midwest. These trains can be very dangerous, prompting some to call them “bomb trains.” There have already been horrific railway accidents in North America caused when these trains go off the tracks, some of them fatal.

      No one wants the responsibility, or expense, of improving the safety of the cars, fuel, tracks or related infrastructure that would reduce the threat. While new regulations are expected in May from the United States Department of Transportation, environmentalists are not hopeful for much change — given the powerful lobbying efforts of the oil and rail industries.

      Already this year there have been four serious derailments, resulting in spills, explosions and fires. Safety and Homeland Security officials have mentioned these “rolling bombs” as potential terrorist weapons. And the Department of Transportation has estimated that at this rate there will be 15 major accidents in the United States this year alone. I hope we will do our best to prevent them.


      Jon Bowermaster’s most recent documentaries include “Antarctica 3D, On the Edge” and “Dear Governor Cuomo: New Yorkers Against Fracking in One Voice.’’ He is a 30-year resident of the Hudson Valley.
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        Albany NY: Year in review top news – crude by rail

        Repost from The Times Union, Albany NY
        [Excellent month-by-month review of CBR developments in New York’s capital region, and an excellent group of 14 photos.  – RS]

        Albany’s Top 10 stories: Region a hub in oil train surge

        Converging lines drove growth in shipment
        By Brian Nearing, December 29, 2014
        View of the courtyard between the apartment buildings and the rail line that carries oil tankers to the Port of Albany  Wednesday, July 16, 2014, at Ezra Prentice Homes in Albany, N.Y. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union) Photo: Cindy Schultz / 00027815A
        View of the courtyard between the apartment buildings and the rail line that carries oil tankers to the Port of Albany Wednesday, July 16, 2014, at Ezra Prentice Homes in Albany, N.Y. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

        More oil trains kept a-rollin’ last year in Capital Region from the booming Bakken fields of North Dakota, where massive hydrofracking has helped drop national gasoline prices below $3 a gallon.

        It was only two days into 2014 in the aftermath of a massive oil train derailment and fire in North Dakota when federal regulators warned that Bakken crude was more likely to catch fire than regular crude. And at year’s end, critics were warning that federal plans to phase out less-sturdy versions of the most common rail tankers during the next two years were too slow.

        In between, massive trains pulling dozens of all-black tanker cars — carrying millions of gallons of crude and ominously called bomb trains by opponents — kept coming.

        Because of its geographic location, with rail lines converging from all four directions and its access to the Hudson River, Albany has become a major oil shipping hub, which drew little public attention when the oil boom began taking shape some five years ago.

        Some oil is unloaded at the port for shipment down the Hudson in barges or tankers, while other oil continues by rail either south along the Hudson River to coastal refineries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania or north along Lake Champlain to Canada.

        And there are many more trains than just a couple years ago. For the first 10 months of 2014, more than 672,000 oil-filled tanker cars moved by rail in the U.S., an increase of more than 13 percent from the previous period of 2013, according to federal statistics. That was more than twice as many as the 300,000 rail oil tankers that moved for the same period in 2011.

        But for part of the oil train story in Albany, 2014 will end the way it began, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation still weighing plans by an oil terminal operator at the port, Global Partners, to build a facility that heats crude oil to make it easier to pump in cold weather.

        Bakken crude doesn’t have to be heated in the cold, leading many to conclude Global wants to begin accepting trains carrying Canadian tar sands oil, a thicker crude that must be heated to be pumped in the cold. Global has never said either way. DEC extended the comment period on the project eight times amid growing community opposition.

        Global and another terminal operator, Houston-based Buckeye Partners, have DEC permission to ship 2.8 billion gallons of oil a year that is arriving by rail. By the end of January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had ordered a state review of safety and spill control plans while also pressing the Obama administration to act faster to toughen rules on the burgeoning energy network.

        The governor did not wait for the report to act. By February, he was touting the first rail-safety inspections at the Port of Albany and elsewhere by state and federal regulators. By year’s end, eight such inspection “blitzes” had been done involving nearly 7,400 rail cars, including more than 5,300 oil tankers, and nearly 2,700 miles of track. A total of 840 defects have been uncovered.

        In March, Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy slapped a county moratorium on Global’s crude heating project. By July, as many as 42 oil trains each week — each holding more than 100 million gallons of Bakken crude — were coming into Albany from North Dakota, according to figures released by the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

        This summer, two major rail companies — CSX and Canadian Pacific — revealed information about their shipments under an emergency federal order intended to help inform local emergency workers of potential risks. CSX transports oil through 17 counties on a line that runs upstate from Lake Erie and eastward roughly along the Thruway corridor, while CP runs oil through five counties in the Capital Region and the North Country on the way from Canada.

        The region can expect to see trains for a long time. By October, a Canadian Pacific official predicted increased transport of tar sands crude oil from Alberta in coming years would account for about 60 percent of the railroad’s oil revenue. That same month, the DEC rejected oil train opponents’ claims that the state had the power to immediately ban the most common type of tanker cars — called DOT-111s — from entering the port loaded with flammable oil.

        Also in October, Global quietly withdrew plans before the DEC for a new oil terminal facility on the Hudson River in New Windsor, Orange County, so that oil could be moved from massive crude oil tanker trains onto vessels to continue downriver to coastal refineries. The company also announced it had voluntarily stopped using the oldest, least sturdy models of DOT-111s.

        By December, officials in North Dakota announced new safety rules on Bakken crude oil shipments aimed at reducing its potential explosiveness, but the limits would not affect about 80 percent of oil arriving daily in Albany, leading oil train opponents to criticize the rules as almost meaningless.

        And it looks like the surge of oil trains will continue to grow. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, two refineries in Linden, N.J., and Philadelphia are adding crude-by-rail terminals to handle up to 8.8 million gallons a day of incoming shipments.

        For oil trains from North Dakota and Canada to reach these refineries, the trip would have to pass through Albany.

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