Volatile rail traffic greatly increases explosion, toxic pollution risks
The fireball that followed the derailment and explosion of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, on December 30, 2013, outside Casselton, ND. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration)
Maybe you've seen the riveting photographs of fireballs and burning houses and oiled and blackened streams and marshes. Train cars carrying crude oil have been derailing and exploding with frightening frequency lately, in Canada and North Dakota and Alabama and Philadelphia.
There are fears that Albany, capital of the great state of New York, may be next in line.
There's a facility in Albany where train cars carrying oil pour their cargo into tankers and barges that cruise down the Hudson to East Coast refineries. That facility operated for years as a storage depot. It only recently was converted to oil-transfer, and the first ship to be loaded with crude ran aground in the river, but fortunately did not leak.
But with little attention and no serious environmental review, the volume of that oil-transfer doubled in 2012 as the production from fracking fields in North Dakota, Montana, and southern Canada revved up.
There are serious environmental justice implications in all this: the transfer facility is adjacent to low-income neighborhoods, which should trigger special consideration by the agency in charge of regulating these operations, but the agency ignored its own regulations.
Now, the company operating the transfer facility has applied for permission to build a new installation to heat oil prior to loading on the ships, which suggests they anticipate receiving thick, heavy crude oil from the tar sands in northern Alberta—the same stuff that would flow through the Keystone XL pipeline.
Again, there has been no serious examination of the environmental consequences of such an operation, little consideration of what could happen to Albany if there's a serious accident. Little consideration of nearby residents.
And, of course, there's the effect that burning that much more oil will have on everyone's climate, but that's another story.
Earthjustice has opposed the oil-heating permit application and has also challenged the failure to do any real environmental analysis of the decision to allow a doubling of the capacity of the plants and challenged the agency's failure to heed its own environmental justice policies.