After being railroaded by the immense and rapid expansion of trains carrying crude oil through Albany, the growing local opposition is finally beginning to gain ground.
Two years ago, the state Department of Environmental Conservation approved the permits that allowed Buckeye Partners to increase the amount of crude it handles annually at the Port of Albany, from 400 million gallons to 1 billion.
Months earlier, the other crude oil terminal operator at the port, Global Partners, had been permitted to increase its annual capacity to 1.8 billion gallons.
Buckeye’s approval came without a single public comment. Two months later came the deadly crash of a crude oil train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Until that disaster, most area residents and public officials failed to comprehend the deadly potential of the huge increase in the number of oil trains rolling through Albany neighborhoods. Equally unclear was the environmental impact of an oil warming facility at the port.
We are gratified that the DEC has bowed to a barrage of pressure from community groups, the region’s state legislators, and a compelling report issued by an advisory committee of experts, appointed by Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, which examined crude oil safety issues. The state agency recently rescinded a negative declaration of environmental impact, which had cleared the way for the proposed oil heating facility. We agree with the county’s expert panel: A full environmental impact study must now be conducted on Global’s proposal before any go-ahead is given by the state.
Over the past couple of years, we have all come to better understand how such an oil warming operation could negatively affect air quality. Consider, in particular, the Ezra Prentice Homes, a city-owned public housing complex on South Pearl Street, near the port. Some of its residents, whose doors are literally steps from the tracks that carry the oil trains to the port, want a barrier wall constructed to protect their homes.
But any environment review needs to take a broad look at the cumulative effect of the current and potential oil business in the region.
Alongside the debate over the warming facility, which would enable heavier tar sands oil to be processed at the port before being pumped into tankers on the Hudson, another issue has surfaced: The railroads lack sufficient liability insurance to cover losses in the event of a major spill or disaster. Without this coverage, the public could be left with the bill after a major event.
The solution is a bill proposed by Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, an Albany Democrat, mandating that companies that transport crude oil carry adequate insurance. Insurers would no doubt demand carriers follow rigid safety measures or face higher premiums.
These positive steps could reduce the risk posed by oil trains and help protect our community. But we need to press authorities at all levels to follow through. Otherwise, all the efforts may end up being too little too late.