Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy issued an executive order Wednesday, imposing a moratorium on the heating of crude oil and expansion of crude by rail transport operations at the Port of Albany on the Hudson River.
The county has, in recent years, been transformed into a major supply hub for the region. Oil is shipped via rail from across the United States and Canada to Albany, where it is processed or shipped by barge farther south. About 20 percent of all of the oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields passes through Albany County.
In 2012, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) gave Massachusets-based company Global Partners L.P. the green light to double its crude oil storage and loading capabilities at its Port of Albany terminal, where the company handles over one billion gallons of highly explosive Bakken crude oil from rail cars every year.
The terminal is near low-income communities, a playground, an elementary school, a senior facility, and a center for the disabled.
Local officials, community groups, tenants associations, and environmental groups called foul — saying the state hadn’t required a full environmental impact review and hadn’t even complied with its own Environmental Justice policy which requires community participation and input on such proposals.
Global recently applied to DEC and the Albany City Planning Board for more permits for further expansion and a special permit that would allow the company to start heating tar sands oil near the port. But all plans to expand will now be put on ice until a health impact study is completed.
McCoy said that the heating and storage of crude oil at the port could create a “condition detrimental to the public health and safety of the residents of Albany County.” And he pledged that the moratorium will not be lifted until he’s confident that Albany County residents are safe. The County Department of Health and the Sheriff’s office have been directed to conduct full health and safety reviews of the proposal. The process could take several months. “We applaud this decisive action by Albany County leaders, who recognize the threat to local residents posed by the unbridled expansion of crude oil activities at the Port of Albany,” said Earthjustice attorney Christopher Amato in a statement. “In the face of the significant environmental and public health threats from Global’s operations, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy has shown bold leadership in acting to protect the public, while Governor Cuomo’s DEC has stood on the sidelines,” Anato added. “We are aggressively reviewing this permit application and all crude oil operations around the state,” said Basil Seggos, Gov. Cuomo’s Deputy Secretary for the Environment. “All options are on the table.”
In January, Cuomo told state agencies to conduct a comprehensive review of safety procedures and emergency response relating to the shipment of crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. That review is expected in April.
Accidents involving trains carrying crude over the past year in Alabama, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Quebec have destroyed property and killed dozens of people, heightening the public’s awareness of the dangers posed by the trains.