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Concerns Raised About Oil Trains In The Adirondacks

Repost from Vermont Public Radio

Concerns Raised About Oil Trains In The Adirondacks

By Mitch Wertlieb & Melody Bodette, August 28, 2014
Government offices, track-side warehouses and Monitor Bay Park campground surround the tracks on the south end of Crown Point, New York. The Adirondack Council has raised concerns about oil trains in the Adirondacks. | Adirondack Council

Ever since the train disaster last summer at Lac Megantic, Quebec, people in our region have been taking more notice of the oil trains traversing our rails.

Concerns have been raised on the New York side of Lake Champlain, where the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks run close to the water.

“In some places they are literally right next to the water,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity. “They run through towns like Plattsburgh, Essex, and Westport, and then eventually they end up down in Albany. From there they go on down south either to refineries or to other places by ship.”

The shipments are relatively new, having begun in the past two years.  Matteson said the trains were brought to the attention of more people by the disaster in Lac Megantic.  The unit trains, as they are sometimes called, are trains entirely of tank cars of crude oil.

“What’s unique is this cargo and this new phenomenon of carrying crude oil by rail. And it’s something that’s been happening all around the country, but only just in the last couple years we’ve seen tremendous growth around the country,” Matteson said. “What’s happening here locally is that we have this new cargo, that has proven to be highly dangerous explosive and obviously if there’s a derailment and a spill it could severely damage our aquatic ecosystems and drinking water for thousands and thousands of people.”

A demonstration was held in Plattsburgh in July and some protestors expressed concern about whether the local emergency services are prepared to deal with a potential derailment and disaster.

Matteson said a starting point would be to make sure the transportation is safer. “These tank cars have been known for 20 years to be very puncture prone in any kind of derailment, even a low speed derailment. We need to get the oil off the rails. It’s simply not a sensible way to be transporting a hazardous material through thousands of small towns and cities around the country, exposing millions of people to this risk.”

The bigger question, Matteson said is should we be extracting more fossil fuels from the ground?

“Really what we need to be looking at is transitioning to a different energy regime.”

There are proposed rules to require upgrades to safer tank cars, but they would be phased in over a number of years and Matteson said, the Center for Biological Diversity believes the trains need to be off the rails immediately until there are safer cars in place, and there needs to be adequate oil spill response plans.

This oil is coming from the North Dakota Bakken oil fields to the terminal in Albany, a company called Global Partners. They are looking to expand their operations in the port. The Center for Biological Diversity has been involved in lawsuit against the company and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation over the proposed expansion plans.

Global Partners did not respond to a request for comment.

A community forum on the oil trains will be held on Thursday, August 28, from 7-9 p.m. at the Plattsburgh City Hall.