Barges, trains carrying volatile crude could bring disastrous consequences
BY KATHY KAHN
Worried about rising tides, power plants and a growing need for potable water? Here’s another item to add to your list: Crude oil being piped in from the Northwest to the Port of Albany is regularly offloaded onto trains and barges and shipped to refineries in New Jersey and points south via barges and CSX trains. In 2014, Riverkeeper predicts more than 7 million gallons a day will come down river from Albany.
At a recent Pattern for Progress event, Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said not enough press is being given to the need for greater supervision of barges and trains carrying Bakken shale oil through the region.
“One of these barges went aground off New Jersey last year,” said Sullivan. “Luckily, only one of the two hulls was punctured, so there was no spill…but the barge carried an amount of oil similar to that carried on the Exxon Valdez in Alaska (equivalent to 1.5 million barrels)….imagine what the consequences could have been to the Hudson if that hull puncture had been more severe.”
Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson and other environmental groups are quick to point out how little public information is being put forward in the media. A train derailment of 97 cars in Ulster County in February, 2014—luckily, the oil transporters were empty—was only reported on Riverkeeper’s website. For the mainstream media, the event remained a non-event.
According to Riverkeeper, shipments of crude oil by train to the Port of Albany began in 201, with an original permitted capacity of 1.4 billion gallons per year. That number has since doubled, with an average of 7.7 million gallons of crude oil per day travelling through the region. “There’s really not enough oversight by the Coast Guard or regulations that will protect the Hudson from spill,” said Sullivan.
Although transporting oil down the Hudson is nothing new, the relatively recent arrival of highly volatile crude oil being transported downstream is a new wrinkle for America’s famous river, which is designated a National Heritage Area. Riverkeeper reports the Hudson River estuary supports more than 200 species of fish and includes 40 state-designated significant wildlife habitats.
With construction ongoing under the Tappan Zee as the new bridge is being built and United Water planning to build a desalination plant and use river water as a source of potable water, it might be a wise idea to contact your state and local officials to ask what’s being done to protect the region from a potential Exxon Valdez disaster.
What are local environmental groups doing to raise awareness? To learn more, visit Scenic Hudson (www.scenichudson.org) or Riverkeeper (www.riverkeeper.org).