Crude oil transport via rail has increased by 4,000 percent in the United States over the past six years, with rail shipments of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to New York increasing to approximately 20 percent of the total output from the region (view the dramatic increase via these graphics from the EIA).
Much of this oil is transported in dangerously outdated tank cars that ride overdilapidated rail bridges and tracks, which receive very little government or industry oversight. Additionally, barges carry some 4 million gallons per day and an 8.4 million gallon tanker laden with crude threatens the ecological integrity of the Hudson River and the water supply for over 100,000 Hudson Valley residents(read our letter to drinking water communities at risk). A spill on the Hudson could have devastating impacts on the $4.7 billion tourism economy many waterfront communities depend on. Imagine the headlines if a spill occurred.
Recent accidents such as the derailment and fire in Mount Carbon, West Virginia, underscore the urgency of finalizing a rule with the strongest regulations for tank car integrity, brake enhancements and speed limits, among other risk reduction options (read our press release) in the wake of these disasters. Riverkeeper submitted extensive comments (summary here) to the pending rule on High Hazard Flammable Trains by the Department of Transportation aimed at increasing crude by rail safety. Rules are due to be released in May, but will they be enough?
If a spill occurs, is New York prepared to protect drinking water intakes and sensitive areas of the river? We are working with the Coast Guard to update its Area Contingency Plan for the Hudson River. Together with Scenic Hudson we submitted comments advocating for the pre-deployment of response equipment in sensitive areas of the estuary in addition to plans for oil spill response on the middle and upper Hudson. The current response plan doesn’t adequately address a spill in those areas or a spill of heavy tar sands crude into the river north of the metro area. We are working for the best possible preparedness and response plans, while the risks have been made all too clear.
The Governor’s budget increases the spill response fund cap from $25 million (its level since 1977) to $40 million, but this is hardly adequate.The total liabilities for the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, rail disaster in July 2013, for example, could easily reach $2.7 billion over the next decade. Additionally, experts tell us that a “successful” oil-spill cleanup may only recover between 20-25 percent of Bakken oil. If heavy tar sands crude oil spills, we could expect a “cleanup” effort to recover between 0-5 percent!
Given the inadequacy of the increased spill fund cap to cover a worst-case oil spill disaster and the low recovery rate projected in the event of a spill, it is clear that prevention is the only option. Therefore, we must collectively demand attention and remain relentless in our efforts to educate communities along the river. Recently Dutchess and Putnam County joined the chorus of Hudson Valley communities demanding action from New York State and the federal government.