Tag Archives: Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter

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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    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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      Green Groups press New York state for $100 million Oil Spill Fund

      Repost from the Press-Republican, Plattsburgh NY

      Green Groups press for $100 million state Oil Spill Fund

      Claim $40M proposed in state budget won’t cover cost of derailments

      By Kim Smith Dedam, March 23, 2015

      ELIZABETHTOWN — Environmental groups are pushing state lawmakers to bulk up the state’s Oil Spill Fund.

      They see a need for $100 million set aside, not $40 million as is currently proposed in the executive and legislative budgets.

      And they have asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators to leave the money within the purview of the State Comptroller’s Office and not move the fund to State Department of Environmental Conservation coffers.

      “This is a backup fund, mainly because in other cases, where a spill has led to significant cleanup costs, some companies go out of business, including the company whose accident resulted in the explosion at Lac-Megantic in Quebec,” Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said in an interview this week.

      “At that point, there is little the state can do to get the money from the company other than to go to court.”

      ‘DOESN’T TAKE MUCH’

      Total liabilities for the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, rail disaster in July 2013 could easily reach $2.7 billion over the next decade, the coalition said in a news release.

      The Adirondack Council joined forces with Environmental Advocates, the Sierra Club and Riverkeeper to press the Oil Spill Fund issue.

      “Typically, the requirement for (accident) insurance has not been high enough to cover the cost of an accident that could take place as the result of an explosion,” Sheehan told the Press-Republican.

      “And it doesn’t take much oil to contaminate thousands of gallons of water, especially when we’re talking about a drinking water supply for 188,000 people, which Lake Champlain is.”

      The Canadian Pacific Railroad line runs the entire length of Lake Champlain’s western shore, and oil train trips have increased in recent months.

      Many places where oil cars have spilled and exploded sustained permanent environmental damage, Sheehan said.

      $60 MILLION MORE

      The coalition is not trying to force funding contributions from oil transport companies or the railroads to bolster state Oil Spill Funds.

      They do believe lawmakers in Albany are on the right track in looking to increase funding for next year.

      “However, the $15 million increase to $40 million proposed by (Cuomo) and Assembly budgets could and should be increased.

      “In today’s dollars, the $25 million fund created in 1977 would be a $96.4 million fund today,” the coalition said in a news release.

      “Thus, we urge that the fund cap be increased to $100 million to bring it back to parity with the monetary protection it afforded nearly four decades ago.”

      They also charge that the Oil Spill Fund should be indexed to keep pace with inflation.

      10 WRECKS YEARLY

      “Federal regulators have told us to expect at least 10 major derailments of crude oil trains a year. There have already been four in the last three weeks,” Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper’s Special Projects director, said in a news release.

      “It’s no longer a matter of if, but when, a catastrophe will happen in a New York community. If we are without a robust spill fund, New York citizens could be left to shoulder the cost of the cleanup and damages, just as the citizens of Canada were a year and a half ago.”

      SEPARATE ACCOUNTS

      Environmental advocates also asked Albany to fund emergency response separately from oil spill response and environmental cleanup.

      “We welcome proposed funding for emergency response equipment, supplies and training for state and local emergency services personnel,” the coalition said in a news release.

      “We strongly support the Assembly’s proposed legislation, which would keep that funding separate from the account that pays for remediation costs, as well as the damages associated with loss of life and property damage and economic losses suffered by individuals and businesses in the event of a spill.”

      If response and spill monies are kept in a joint account, they contend, emergency cleanup costs could deplete the response fund, leaving the state without resources to remediate a spill.

      ‘TREMENDOUS RISK’

      Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, said New Yorkers assume “tremendous risk and little economic benefit” from the millions of gallons of explosive crude oil that “rumble through our cities and along our precious waterways every day.”

      Inaction on the part of the federal government to adequately address the risks or improve oil-tank-car safety should not prevent state lawmakers from building the most robust spill fund possible, he said.

      The joint call for heightened oil-spill resources came within a day of the release of reports from state inspections done at railroad yards in Albany and Buffalo.

      State inspectors found 93 defects in tracks and crude oil cars, including seven critical safety defects that had to be fixed before cars could continue operation.

      Inspections were done on tankers at a CSX rail yard in Buffalo and at the Canadian Pacific yard in Albany.

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