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Groups Call Growing Oil Shipments In New York Cuomo's "Keystone" Moment

Karen DeWitt

National environmental groups are trying to focus the spotlight on Governor Andrew Cuomo over the issue of the growing international oil distribution center, located just blocks from the state capitol, at the Port of Albany.  

A small band of demonstrators chanted and held signs Tuesday to protest a confluence of events that has turned upstate New York into a major center for oil distribution.

Environmental Advocate’s Peter Iwanowicz says two major rail road lines extend from the Bakken oil formation in North Dakota, where there is a drilling boom, and oil fields in Canada. They converge at the Port of Albany, where the company Global Partners, processes crude and ships it down the Hudson and on to major oil refineries.

“Big oil has decided that this is a great place,” said Iwanowicz.

The long trains of black oil tankers have derailed and in some cases have caused fires, including an inferno that leveled most of a town in Quebec and killed 47 people.

The train lines also pass through Buffalo and Syracuse, and snake along a large swath of the shores of Lake Champlain.

Nationally known environmentalists, including Bill McKibben, and the heads of the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, are calling on Governor Cuomo to direct his environmental agency to conduct a full review. They compare the burgeoning route to the controversial Keystone pipeline in the Western United States.  

“It’s Cuomo’s keystone moment,” Iwanowicz said.

The groups fear that the growing oil distribution center in Albany will also be a conduit for Canada’s controversial tar sands oil, which critics say is dirty and difficult to extract, and will lead to even more greenhouse gases.  

“New York could be aiding and abetting the destruction of the planet,” Iwanowicz said.

Global Partners applied for an expansion of its oil processing plant. The state Department of Environmental Conservation initially did not challenge the request, but is now asking the company for more information, and has extended a public comment period. A spokeswoman says  the agency will also establish an air monitoring program near the port in the spring..

Cuomo has also ordered a multi-agency review of safety procedures and emergency response plans relating to the oil shipments across the state, and is asking the federal government to speed up issuing new regulations, including requiring the oil be shipped in safer tanker cars.

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