FracTracker Alliance | Off the Rails: Risks of Crude Oil Transportation by Freight in NY State and Beyond

FracTracker Alliance | Off the Rails: Risks of Crude Oil Transportation by Freight in NY State and Beyond.

By Karen Edelstein, NY Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Since 2011, North Dakota crude oil from the Bakken Shale Play has made its way to refineries on the east coast via freight trains. This means of oil transportation is becoming increasingly common, as plans for pipeline development have been falling short, but demand for more energy development continues to climb (see New York Times, April 12 , 2014). In addition to the Bakken crude, there are also currently proposals under consideration to ship crude by rail  from Alberta’s tar sands region, along these same routes through New York State.

Alarm about the danger of these “bomb trains” came sharply into public focus after the disaster in Lac Mégantic, Québec in July 2013 when a train carrying 72 carloads of the highly volatile Bakken oil derailed, setting off a massive series of explosions that leveled several blocks of the small town, killing 47 people (photo above). The crude from the Bakken is considerably lighter than that of other oil and gas deposits, making it more volatile than the crude that has been traditionally transported by rail.

Quantifying the Risk

As estimated by the National Transportation Safety Board, with deliveries at about 400,000 barrels a day headed to the Atlantic coast, about a 20-25% of this volume passes through the Port of Albany, NY. There were recent approvals for 3 billion gallons to be processed through Albany. The remainder of the crude is delivered to other ports in the US and Canada. Any oil travelling by rail through the Port of Albany would also pass through significant population centers, including Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, NY. Binghamton, NY is also bisected by commercial rail lines.

In the past year, the New York Times, as well as other media, have reported on the threat of disasters similar to what occurred in Québec last summer, as the freight cars pass through Albany. Not only is the oil itself volatile, safety oversight is extremely spotty. According to The Innovation Trail, “… a 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office noted that the Federal Railroad Administration only examines 1-percent of the countries rail road infrastructure.”

RiverKeeper, in their recent report on the topic, notes:

Nationwide, shipping crude oil by rail has jumped six-fold since 2011, according to American Association of Railroads data, and rail shipments from the Bakken region have jumped exponentially since 2009.

This ad-hoc transportation system has repeatedly failed — and spectacularly.

The fires resulting from derailments of Bakken crude oil trains have caused fireballs and have burned so hot that emergency responders often can do nothing but wait—for days—to let the fires burn themselves out.

The Guardian has reported that a legacy of poor regulation and safety failures led to the disaster in Québec, leading to bankruptcy of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways (MMA), and numerous class action suits. Records show that MMA was particularly lax in maintaining their rail cars and providing training for their employees. Meanwhile,  in the US, critics of rail transport of volatile crude oil point to inadequate monitoring systems, training, and, importantly, prepared and available emergency response teams that would be able to respond to explosions or disasters anywhere along the route. The size of a explosion that could occur would easily overwhelm volunteer fire and EMT services in many small towns.

These same trains pass through other major cities in Western and Central New York, including Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica. Not only are the railroads in proximity to significant population centers, they are also close to scores of K-12 schools, endangering the wellbeing of thousands of children (Table 1). In fact, across New York State, 495 K-12 public schools, or 12% of the total in the state, are within a half-mile of major railways–the standard evacuation distance for accidents involving railcars filled with flammable liquids and gases, as recommended by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) intheir Emergency Response Guidebook. The US DOT also recommends an isolation zone of 1600 meters (1.0 miles) around any railcars filled with those materials if they are on fire.

Millennium Pipeline Extension Organizing Meeting–Tully

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Court rules against Binghamton fracking moratorium: Home Rule supporters win key points in broader fight

Court rules against Binghamton fracking moratorium: Home Rule supporters win key points in broader fight



Binghamton Bans Gas Drilling | WBNG-TV: News, Sports and Weather Binghamton, New York | home

Binghamton Bans Gas Drilling | WBNG-TV: News, Sports and Weather Binghamton, New York | home.

Fracking regulations: DEC’s latest script produces high drama at Binghamton Forum | Press & Sun-Bulletin |

Fracking regulations: DEC’s latest script produces high drama at Binghamton Forum | Press & Sun-Bulletin |




Fracking regulations: DEC’s latest script produces high drama at Binghamton Forum



The Department of Environmental Conservation holds a hearing on its proposed guidelines for hydraulic fracturing Thursday afternoon at The Forum in downtown Binghamton. / CASEY STAFF/ Staff Photo



BINGHAMTON — It was the perfect setting for the Southern Tier’s longest-running drama.

In Binghamton’s downtown Forum theater Thursday, two hopelessly divided sides took center stage in a region at the crux of New York’s naturalgas drilling debate.

And, predictably, voices were raised and fingers were wiggled when the estimated 1,050 people began voicing their opinions on the state Department of EnvironmentalConservation’s proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing.

This was the second of four hearings DEC will hold this month to take public comments on its proposed regulations. After the close of the public comment period Dec. 12, the agency is expected to consider relevant feedback as it creates the final draft of the regulations before issuing permits to drill wells as soon as sometime next year.

During the first of two three-hour sessions Thursday, 63 people spoke, divided almost evenly between the two sides of the drilling discussion.

The comments — limited to three minutes each — drew lively reactions from a vocal crowd, which met the speakers with applause, boos, and the wiggling fingers and crossed arms popularized by the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Drilling advocates expressed frustration with DEC’s three-and-a-half year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Meanwhile, opponents urged further study.

Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, the leadoff speaker, expressed concerns about drilling in floodplains. Still, she was one of the few who straddled the fence.

“It’s obvious that many people are frustrated with the pace of the review process,” she said. “Some want to speed it up, some want to slow it down.”

Both sides shared grievances with DEC’s revised draft of the Generic Environmental Impact Statement, a 1,500-page document that lays out the agency’s regulatory groundwork for high-volume, hydraulic fracturing — a technique used to unleash gas trapped deep inside rock formations like the Marcellus Shale.

Sarah Eckel, policy director for Citizens Campaign for theEnvironment, called for a ban on treatment of hydrofracking wastewater in municipal sewage treatment plants.

“There’s no plan for waste disposal for fracking waste in New York,” she said. “We can track it and know where it’s going, but we have no plan.”

Others, like Tioga County resident Ron Dougherty, said onerous environmental restrictions in the SGEIS and a proposed prohibition of drilling on some state lands will push drilling companies and jobs out of the state.

“These barriers go against the New York State energy plan and will deprive New York of a source of long-term reliable energy and long-term tax growth,” Dougherty said.

Advocates of drilling echoed a common refrain: the three-and-a-half year moratorium on hydrofracking in New York has gone on too long.

“These drilling opponents will never be satisfied,” said Julie Scott, a landowner from the Town of Barker. “Their tactic is to delay, delay, delay until it is too late. Please don’t let this happen.”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, those concerned with the state’s movement toward natural gas drilling said the delays are necessary because of perceived inadequacies in the regulatory framework.

Wes Gillingham, program director for Catskill Mountainkeeper, said the SGEIS presents an “erroneous analysis” of the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing and includes other oversights, including failing to ban the storage of wastewater in open pits.

“This is outrageous,” he said to standing applause. “We want that document thrown out.”

While the crowd was mostly civil, at least four people were escorted out of the theater — two of whom attempted to unfurl a large protest banner, which violated the facility’s rules.

Speakers were urged to focus their statements on the SGEIS, but many comments veered toward appraisals of whether drilling should take place in New York.

“Waste disposal and earthquakes alone are two insurmountable problems,” said Chenango County resident Kim Michaels. “Natural gas drilling in New York needs to be banned.”

“This is a limited time offer,” said John Cuomo, a Tioga County landowner and consultant. “Gas companies will not invest their resources where the regulatory environment is full of requirements and restrictions. Drilling opponents will never be satisfied.”

Comments of elected officials, who were allowed to speak first, took up the initial half-hour of the early hearing.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, drew cheers for urging the DEC to withdraw the document and referring to the portion of the document dealing with socioeconomic impacts as a “cut-and-paste job from industry press releases.”

A common pro-drilling argument — that gas drilling could be a source of much-needed job growth in the Southern Tier — came from Broome County Legislator Steve Herz.

“I submit that with the good and reasonable regulations that DEC has put together, and the leases the landowners have formulated, the natural gas industry will provide the funding to create what we need,” Herz said.

The public hearing was the second of four that will be held by DEC this month, and the only one in the Southern Tier, a region has drawn strong interest from natural gas companies for its position atop an energy-rich swath of the Marcellus Shale.

The crowd remained equally boisterous in the second three-hour portion of the meeting, but some of the reaction took a different twist.

“Our natural resources that we have here with natural gas have brought our country closer than ever to achieving energy independence,” said Scott Kurkoski, attorney for the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, whose comments elicited a strong reaction from both sides. “It’s time to move forward. Three-and-a-half years is enough.”

Fingers were wiggled at the comments of Brendan Woodruff, hydrofracking campaign organizer for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

“The revised SGEIS does not include an adequate assessment of cumulative impacts, including public heath impacts and proper disposal of the toxic and possibly radioactive wastewater,” Woodruff said. “You have opted to fast-track the process instead of … undertaking a full environmental review.”

Effects of fracking go beyond upstate N.Y. | Press & Sun-Bulletin |

Effects of fracking go beyond upstate N.Y. | Press & Sun-Bulletin |

Binghamton Big River Splash

Our First Big Splash

Here’s what we’re planning:

Binghamton Big River Splash / Southern Tier CleanWaters Symposium

Friday, June 3 –  First Friday @ Atomic Tom’s Film/Music/Education events. Opening Reception.

Saturday, June 4 Southern Tier CleanWaters Symposium, RiverWalk Hotel. 10:30 am-4:00 pm. Key Note address by visionary mother, author, ecologist Sandra Steingraber. 10:30 am How to End a Lease with Attorney Joe Heath. 1:00 pm Keynote with Sandra Steingraber. 2:30 pm Health Effects of Hydrofracking.  Evening Entertainment. Free admission with a suggested donation.

Sunday, June 5 The Binghamton Big Splash!!!, In Beautiful Recreation Park. 11:00 am-9:00 pm. Live Bands and Special Guests all Day Long; YOLK, Sim Redmond Band, Drift Wood, Richie Stearns and the Evil City String Band, The Burns Sisters, Thousands Of One, Dutch Bucket System, The Green Deeps, Cabinet. Mayor Matt Ryan Two Stages Ten Bands, Free Show with a suggested donation of $10.00. Food Vendors, Water Workshops, Live Solar and Wind Demonstrations, Citizen Out Reach and Tabling.