Bomb trains carrying massive amounts of fracked oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and tar sands from Canada, are cutting across New York State on the way to the Port of Albany and nearby transfer yards, and then down the Hudson River corridor to East Coast refineries.This boom in crude oil transportation is raising serious public safety and environmental concerns due to the extreme volatility of Bakken crude, the sheer volume of oil being transported, and the poor safety record of the type of tank cars used to carry most of this oil.
These trains are called “bomb trains” for a reason: Fracked oil is highly volatile, containing a toxic and explosive mix of butane, ethane and propane. When one of these trains derails, it can create a devastating fireball that is capable of destroying an entire town and killing scores of people— as happened in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in July 2013.
While Canadian tar sands don’t have the same volatility as Bakken oil, transport of this incredibly dirty fossil fuel is also a major environmental concern because tar sands are denser than water. If spilled, they would sink into our waterways and be almost impossible to clean up.
Industry has chosen trains as the best form of transport for this oil because there are no pipelines currently located along this route, and trains are seen as the cheapest and easiest way to bring product to refineries for processing. As much as 1,000 miles of New York State’s 4100-mile rail network is part of this virtual pipeline from North Dakota and Canada.
Each train carries up to three million gallons of oil – enough to fill an ocean-going supertanker – and an explosion anywhere along the train route would be a major disaster.
Bomb trains present a clear and serious danger to communities in 22 New York counties – from Buffalo to Albany and in all the towns that flank the west side of the Hudson River. These trains roll along tracks in New Jersey that are just a few miles across the river from New York City.
When a bomb train derailed in Castleton, North Dakota in May 2015, people within a 5-mile radius were evacuated because of the danger of explosion and toxic emissions. It is unimaginable to think what would happen if a similar derailment occurred in Union City, New Jersey, just 5 miles as the crow flies from Times Square. In such a case, there clearly would be no way to evacuate everyone within a 5-mile radius.
And let’s be clear: a great deal of this oil will not be used by or benefit New Yorkers. With last year’s lifting of the U.S. oil export embargo, much of this oil may be destined to head overseas, leaving New Yorkers to bear the brunt of the catastrophic risk to our communities and natural resources posed by its transport so that oil companies can profit by selling product to lucrative overseas markets.
As we’ve said before, bomb trains are regulated by Federal agencies, but we are nevertheless making progress on the portions of approval processes that are controlled by New York State.
In particular, Mountainkeeper and our coalition partners are working to prevent an increase in bomb train traffic in New York State by opposing plans by Global Partners (Global), the operator of crude-by-rail operations at the Port of Albany, to expand its operations.
We have challenged erroneous representations made by Global about the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that would be produced by increasing its train traffic, and now the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has made the important decision to require Global to resubmit the company’s application for a Title V Air Permit, as required by the Federal Clean Air Act.
The great news is that Global’s application will now be subject to a full environmental assessment under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), a process that will give our experts and the public a chance to make their voices heard about why bomb trains are so dangerous for our state.
The NYSDEC has not yet announced the start date of the public comment period, but Mountainkeeper will be in touch as soon as that happens with information about how to participate in this process and make your voice heard in opposition to bomb trains.
Right now, Mountainkeeper needs your financial support so that we can prepare for this regulatory process.
The bottom line is that bomb trains—along with other forms of dirty and dangerous oil and gas transport and processing--endanger the health of our families and communities and threaten the integrity of our air, water, and other natural resources. We must stop the efforts of the oil and gas industry to turn New York State into a major fossil fuel hub, and redouble our investments in safe and sustainable renewable energy sources, so that we can prevent the worst impacts of climate change and build a clean and prosperous energy future.
We appreciate your commitment to our shared goals, and hope that you will make a gift now to help Mountainkeeper’s team continue the essential fight to protect our families and communities by breaking the cycle of our dependence on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels, and leading the way to a healthier and safer future for us all.