Scenic Hudson Study Examines Oil Spill Risks On The Hudson

Oct 4, 2018

An environmental group in the Hudson Valley has released a study on the risks of oil spills in the Hudson River. Scenic Hudson commissioned the study that looks at threats at nine locations between Yonkers and Albany.

Hayley Carlock is Scenic Hudson environmental advocacy director.

“There’s never been a comprehensive study of the risks and consequences of an oil spill in the Hudson River which, when we discovered this, it’s sort of shocking to us,” Carlock says. “It’s been done for a lot of water bodies all around the United States and around the world.”

Scenic Hudson had commissioned the report from Environmental Research Consulting while a U.S. Coast Guard proposal to establish up to 10 anchorage sites from Yonkers to Kingston was on the table. That proposal was shelved in June 2017. Since, the Coast Guard directed a study on safety along the river, and there is a Hudson River Safety Committee that met most recently October 2 in Hyde Park. Carlock participated.

“One, I am hopeful in listening to Captain Tama’s words form the Coast Guard at the Tuesday meeting that there will be no new anchorage proposals in the Hudson River anytime in the near future. That’s what he said on Tuesday, and I believe him,” says Carlock. “So I’m hopeful that’s not going to happen but, if some proposal like that does occur or a proposal for a new oil terminal or a different type of oil to be transported on the Hudson River, that this document and the information, and it will be the first place that people go to say, wait a minute, let’s look at what the consequences can be. Let’s look at how this should influence our planning and whether we would allow this type of thing to happen at all on the Hudson River.”

Scenic Hudson’s study suggests that the Coast Guard designate the Hudson River a High-Volume Port Area, which would require enhanced spill preparedness and reduced response time. A spokeswoman says the U.S. Coast Guard is aware of the study and looks forward to reviewing it. Carlock says the study evaluated 77 scenarios at 12 locations.

“What was most shocking to us was looking at how long oil would remain in the water for some of the scenarios, obviously those that have a larger volume of oil, over 28 days, in some cases.   And, in some of the scenarios, you would have oil at different times,” Carlock says. “You’d have a scenario that would occur perhaps at the Port of Albany or maybe in Coxsackie, so in the upper Hudson area. And, during certain weather conditions for certain types of oil, that oil from that spill would make its way all the way down to New York Harbor.”

The analysis included worst-case scenarios in four locations: Albany, Kingston, Newburgh and Yonkers.

“We looked at a scenario where there was an explosion and fire resulting from a spill of Bakken crude at the Port of Albany, where Bakken would be coming out of a tank into a barge and there was an explosion, which is actually modelled on an actual incident that occurred, not in New York state. I think it was out in Michigan,” says Carlock. “And that, you would have severe damage for, you’d have an explosion zone that would go over five miles. You would have potentially areas that are heavily residential that could be impacted by that. So there you’re not looking at the ecology of the river as much because, if there’s an explosion and fire, less oil’s going to get into the river, but severe human health, safety and casualty concerns, obviously.”

At the site of a formerly proposed Kingston anchorage, the scenario is a 150,000-barrel home heating oil spill. On the Newburgh waterfront, the study examines an 11,000-barrel Bakken crude spill from a train accident. And for Yonkers, a 155,000-barrel gasoline spill was analyzed.

“Fast response is critical to protect the river,” says Lipscomb.

That’s John Lipscomb. He’s Riverkeeper boat captain and vice president for advocacy, and says the total volume of petroleum moving along the river has increased. Yet the capacity to respond to a spill is limited, with dated technology. Lipscomb says he hopes the report helps to change this.

“The discussion over spill response and recovery is much needed in the Hudson Valley. Aside from the anchorage debate, there’s petroleum moving on the river every day,” Lipscomb says. “Refined product is coming up from the coastal refineries to terminals in various communities and in Albany. And then, in the last few years, as everyone knows now, we see Bakken crude oil coming from North Dakota by rail to Albany and being transported south to the coastal refineries.”

Meantime, the U.S. Department of Transportation in September rescinded a requirement that would have mandated trains carrying crude oil and other flammable substances to use electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems. Scenic Hudson believes such brakes would decrease the likelihood of a derailment.

On October 16 and 17, Scenic Hudson will conduct in-depth workshops for experts about the study at the Empire State Plaza in Albany. Carlock says Coast Guard representatives plan to attend. Scenic Hudson plans to hold a separate session over the winter for the general public.