Canadian Pacific official Randy Marsh (left) discusses company safety procedures as Ed Greenberg looks on (right). Seated behind Marsh are Tom Scozzfava and Randy Douglas.
Representatives from Canadian Pacific (CP), the railroad operator responsible for shipping crude oil from North Dakota through the North Country on its way to a processing center at the Port of Albany, told the Essex County board of supervisors, first responders and members of the public at a meeting on Tuesday, March 11, at the Government Center they were working closely with local officials in drafting emergency response plans in the event of an accident.
Federal regulators deemed Bakken crude “extremely volatile,” after a train derailment and explosion near Casselton, N.D., last year, an incident following the Lac-Mégantic derailment last July that pulverized a town in Quebec and killed 47.
Area residents have noted an uptick in the number of trains moving through the region, some carrying upwards of 100 tank cars, and have approached lawmakers with their concerns.
According to statistics provided by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, rail transport of Bakken crude from North Dakota has gone from, “next to nothing four years ago,” to 800,000 barrels per day now nationally.
Both the refinery in Albany and the tank cars are owned by Global Partners (GP), one of the largest gas distributors in the region. CP Rail has a contract with them to ferry the crude southward, said CP spokesman Ed Greenberg, and is bonded by federal statues to ship the cargo.
Greenberg said CP, Canada’s second-largest rail company, places a premium effort on safety and communicating with local authorities.
“Our railroad has an ongoing process of meeting with communities across our North American network to go over a wide variety of areas,” he said. “This encompasses questions about our operations and other important issues.”
Greenberg said the CP staffers who live and work in the community “stay in touch” with local officials and response teams and keep headquarters updated.
Four-hundred of those live in the Northeast Corridor. It’s unclear how many of those live in Essex County.
While Greenberg said the communication process is “constantly evolving” between CP and county and town officials, it’s murky as to what the exact discussion protocol is and if a regular channel for dialogue is in place.
IF DISASTER STRIKES
CP Community Relations Manager Randy Marsh said while he couldn’t reveal the exact emergency response plan due to national security concerns, he said local fire department chiefs were free to request “density reports” on a “need to know basis.”
Marsh said that Tuesday’s meeting, which included a detailed presentation heavy with statistics and the minutiae of rail transport technology, acted as the first step, or what he referred to as Railroad 101, in CP’s emergency planning process.
The next step would be to conduct disaster exercises with local agencies, which would require at least a six-month advance notice, followed by the third step, a mock exercise with municipalities.
Train master George Newell said the trains, many of which contain the controversial DOT-111 tank cars that federal regulators have determined need to be given safety upgrades, roll into Albany twice per day after completing the four-day journey from North Dakota. These mile-long trains can carry roughly 85,000 barrels of oil.
Essex County emergency services head Donald Jaquish said the county is equipped to handle a train accident on land, but would have to call in outside help if a tank car went into Lake Champlain.
“We’d have call in outside help regardless of whatever department responds,” he said. “We don’t carry that much foam.”
Jaquish said the county helps each of the 18 towns in creating non-specific comprehensive emergency management plans. Essex County has a comprehensive emergency management plan with annexes for categorized events and will start meeting with fire departments around the lake corridor to develop better and more plans.
“We’re going to help them be more dynamic,” he said.
Jaquish also made a request to CP for more training, including the effects of high altitudes on cargo.
Willsboro town supervisor Shaun Gillilland said he remained skeptical after the two-hour meeting that frequently left Marsh unable to answer lawmaker questions.
“Residents are concerned and they want answers,” he said.
Gillilland said he plans on speaking with the Coast Guard this week and has sent letters to the state Department of Environmental Conversation for their perspective.
Willsboro resident Moana White said while she left the meeting satisfied, she still questioned the country’s overall energy policies.
“I don’t see this benefitting our country in the long run,” she said. “It’s not going to make our gas any cheaper.”
Warrensburg resident Robert Bradley questioned CP’s continued usage of the DOT-111 tankers.
“Lives are more important than profit,” he said in a blistering open-ended rebuke against CP reps. “And tomorrow’s already passed by.”
Marsh said the company agrees the DOT-111 tank cars need to be retrofitted and noted the company’s $325 per car surcharge they’ve slapped onto non-compliant clients, including GP, as an incentive for them to make the changes.
The meeting stemmed from a request to CP from Jaquish following an Executive Order from Governor Cuomo on Jan. 29 directing state agencies to do a thorough review of safety procedures and emergency response preparedness related to the sharp increase in shipments since late-2011.
According to recent reports, the Port of Albany handles some 40,000 carloads annually, or about 120 per day.
On Wednesday, March 12, Albany County executive Dan McCoy placed a moratorium on GP’s plans to expand their processing facility.
The expansion would include the construction of seven new boilers.
“It is my duty as County Executive to take the necessary measures to protect public health and safety,” said McCoy in a press release. “We need to be sure that any processing and shipping of crude oil is safe and determine fully what impact it may have on the public. Recent events demonstrate that we fully assess the risk and impact on the public.”
The order states that pending the results of a public health investigation, GP cannot expand or increase current operations.
After GP processes the crude, the oil is pumped into storage tanks before being loaded onto barges that make daily trips to refineries down the Hudson. Then a tanker picks up oil destined for a refinery in New Brunswick, which then produces gasoline for American consumption.
GP responded by calling the ban on the expansion “ill advised, unnecessary, unlawful and prejudicial to the company.”
“County Executive McCoy’s action will not impact the amount of that will pass through the Terminal,” said GP executive vice president Edward Faneuil in a letter delivered to McCoy’s office. “Global Partners is continuing its current operations and moving forward with pending permit applications.”
CP representatives declined to comment to the Valley News, saying that the executive order applies to shippers — not railways.
Marsh did say in response to a direct question by Ticonderoga town supervisor Bill Grinnell if towns could expect an increase in railway traffic throughout their communities that a “sweet spot” exists between client demand, infrastructural limits on growth and community concerns and stressed that he couldn’t rule out increased rail traffic throughout the North Country in the future.
Foreshadowing what appears to be the start of a long and contentious public battle, McCoy slapped GP on Friday, March 14 with claims that GP is using scare tactics to rattle the public.
“Instead of using [their] resources to cooperate with efforts to prevent catastrophic public health and safety risks, GP has unleashed a cadre of lawyers in a transparent maneuver to intimidate and bully the county from safeguarding the public health,” he said in a press release. “We will not be intimidated. We will not back down and we will not let Big Oil and its hordes of lawyers use hollow threats to stop us and the people from ensuring environmental justice in Albany County.”
This moratorium supercedes whether or not a permit is granted by the state, said a representative from McCoy’s office on Friday, and Albany County can now compel safety and response info from GP with subpoena power.
State agencies have until April 30 to summarize their existing capacity to prevent and respond to accidents involving the shipment of crude oil to the Governor and if local governments need to tweak their relationship with both state, and subsequently federal, authorities to ensure an effective response if an accident occurs.