A new report from environmental groups in the region warns of a potential resurgence of shipments of crude oil through the Adirondacks. Its recommendations include a call for a federal ban of oil by rail transport through the region.
Transport of Bakken crude oil by rail along tracks adjacent to Lake Champlain to terminals at the Port of Albany peaked in 2014. According to the new report “Danger on the Tracks: Oil-By-Rail’s Threat to Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Region,” market trends indicate oil prices will increase, leading to an increase in oil train traffic through the region.
Environmental Advocates of New York Air and Energy Director Connor Bambrick says as oil prices rise, the cost of moving oil via rail is more attractive, so the region should be prepared for a steep influx of oil trains. “There is a very high risk of that. There is not currently the pipeline infrastructure in place to move the oil so rail is really the only option and as the prices make it more attractive to do so I think we’ll see companies look to ramp up those efforts again.”
Bambrick says the tankers remain unsafe. “There were a number of safety protocols ordered to be put in place back in 2015 that included the retirement or the retrofitting of some of the more dangerous rail cars, the DOT-111’s, and also requirements that pneumatic braking systems be installed. And you know what we saw just this week is that the Trump administration decided to roll back that requirement for new or modern braking systems thus increasing the risk of accidents.”
Vermont Natural Resources Council Energy and Climate Program Director Johanna Miller says the oil would once again be transported along one of the most treasured natural resources in the region. "Not only is it what’s in these oil trains and tankers, some of the dirtiest energy, it also puts at risk Lake Champlain which is a primary driver of our state’s economy and is also you know under threat from other pollution. Which means that it just has a potential to exacerbate a significant challenge already and again threaten one of our most important natural resources as well as an economic engine for the state of Vermont and the state of New York.”
The report calls for a permanent federal ban of oil trains through the region. National Wildlife Federation Senior Counsel Jim Murphy acknowledges that will be a challenge given the priorities of the White House. “It’s still worth calling for that as that’s the ultimate solution that’s needed. And the fact of the matter is that with dropping oil demand, with increases in efficiency, with some of the things the region frankly is doing to wean itself off oil and to get to get to cleaner sources of energy we’re at the point where we don’t need to bring oil through remote risky regions like the Adirondacks and the Lake Champlain valley. So we feel that’s the ultimate fix. You know that said short of a federal fix we urge the state and local areas continue doing all they can to try to reduce the risk.”
Among the recommendations the report offers to eliminate or reduce oil train transport are including a price on carbon; a low carbon fuel standard; keeping strong federal fuel economy standards and imposing stringent safety standards on all pipeline and rail projects.