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Take Two: Albany’s Oil-by-Rail Facilities Must Do New Environmental Review

The people of Albany, New York, got some good news last Friday about their port's oil-by-rail facilities.

“Global Companies must restart its environmental review process, given the significant new information about the benzene levels in Albany’s South End community and the hazards of crude oil transport,” said Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos. “DEC will ensure that this process includes a meaningful and thorough opportunity for public engagement.” 

Global Companies and Buckeye Partners are the two companies operating oil-by-rail facilities at the Port of Albany. While the letter last week was addressed to Global, the DEC has announced both will have to restart the environmental review process.

In 2014 DeSmog reported that the “residents of the Ezra Prentice apartments in Albany, N.Y., have been complaining about air quality issues ever since the oil trains showed up in the Port of Albany two years ago.”

New York Serves As Battleground for Oil and Gas Infrastructure Fights

When New York state banned fracking in 2015, it was a blow to the oil and gas industry. But it didn’t slow industry plans to continue to build out new oil and gas infrastructure in New York.

However, in another setback for the industry, Governor Cuomo’s administration just denied permits for the proposed Constitution pipeline — a pipeline that would have brought fracked gas from Pennsylvania into New York — which has effectively killed the project.

Pipeline giant Kinder Morgan also just announced it is shelving plans to build the natural gas pipeline known as Northeast Direct due to “inadequate capacity commitments from prospective customers.”  

These two decisions were celebrated by the many concerned citizens in New York who have been fighting new oil and gas infrastructure in the state.

New Poll Finds Growing Opposition To Fracking

A new study from Stanford has confirmed that fracking operations are contaminating drinking water sources in Wyoming.

“This is a wake-up call,” said lead author Dominic DiGiulio, a visiting scholar at Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “It's perfectly legal to inject stimulation fluids into underground drinking water resources. This may be causing widespread impacts on drinking water resources.”

Of course this comes soon after a Pennsylvania jury awarded $4.24 million to two families in Dimock, PA who sued Cabot Oil for contaminating their drinking water via fracking operations. And a new study that has found fracking — and not just frack waste injection — is causing earthquakes in Canada.

Reuters recently reported that Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy revealed that, “Methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and gas sector are substantially higher than we previously understood.”

So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that a new poll from Gallup finds that opposition to fracking among the American public has increased in the past year and now a majority of Americans oppose fracking.

New Pilgrim Oil Pipeline Proposed for New York and New Jersey Raises Many Questions

It isn’t hard to find news these days about how the crash in oil prices is impacting investment in new oil infrastructure and development. Headlines like “Big oil to cut investment again in 2016” and “Big Banks Brace for Oil Loans to Implode” appear regularly.

So why is a group fronted by two former Koch Industries executives moving forward with plans to build a new oil pipeline from Albany, NY to Linden, NJ? That is a good question. And the lack of answers as the permitting process moves forward is troubling.  

The actual proposal is for two pipelines. One to supposedly handle Bakken crude oil that arrives in Albany by train. The other would return refined products to Albany from Linden, NJ.

New York Attorney General Petitions Government for Oil-by-Rail Volatility Standard

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s recent petition to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to require oil producers to stabilize oil before it is shipped by rail is a detailed 30-page document. However, the essence of the document is summed up in a single sentence (found on page 24).

Without rulemaking on vapor pressure, current Federal standards will not prevent high intensity fires and explosions in future train accidents.”

Vapor pressure is a characteristic of oil used to quantify oil’s volatility and is correlated to the amount of natural gas liquids present in the crude oil mixture. The more natural gas liquids, the higher the vapor pressure.

The high percentage of natural gas liquids (e.g. propane and butane) in the Bakken oil are what make it so volatile and flammable.

As repeatedly noted by DeSmog, with the new regulations failing to address the volatility of the oil, the risk of “bomb train” accidents remains.

New York State Ban On Fracking Made Official

After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative.”

Those were the words many activists in New York never expected to hear from Joe Martens, head of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, but they were included in a statement released today as New York made the state’s ban on fracking official.

New York State Reverses Decision, Requires Full Environmental Review of Tar Sands-by-Rail Facility

In what came as a welcome surprise to activists in Albany, New York, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reversed an earlier decision and now will require a full environmental review for a proposed tar sands oil heating facility at the Port of Albany.

The Only Legal Challenge To Local Fracking Bans In California Was Just Quietly Dropped

The only lawsuit seeking to overturn any of the local fracking bans in the state of California has been dropped.

Southern California-based Citadel Exploration filed a suit on February 27 against San Benito County’s Measure J, which voters approved by a wide margin last November despite the oil and gas industry outspending its opponents 13-to-1 in an attempt to defeat the measure.

Citadel had called Measure J an “illegal local statutory scheme” and argued that only the state has the right to regulate oil and gas development, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The company has not released any further statements or responded to requests for comment on why it chose to drop the suit.

But anti-fracking activists and others who have worked on the fracking bans have their own theories.

“It's pretty clear to me now that the oil industry was bluffing,” Andy Hsia-Coron, a retired schoolteacher who helped run the Measure J campaign, told the San Jose Mercury News. “As they examined their hand, they realized it was pretty weak.”

After the Fracking Ban, What's Next For New York? An Interview with Sane Energy Project

On December 17, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in New York State. Citing the health risks associated with fracking, Cuomo said “I’ve never had anyone say to me, ‘I believe fracking is great.’ Not a single person in those communities. What I get is, ‘I have no alternative but fracking.’” His decision has widespread public support across the state according to media reports.

What does the New York ban mean for the future of the national debate over fracking? Will other states follow Cuomo’s lead? DeSmogBlog discussed these and related questions with Clare Donohue, the co-founder of “Sane Energy Project,” one of the first anti-fracking grassroots organizations in New York.  

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Anti-fracking activists thanking Governor Cuomo, on a street in Manhattan, on the day of the ban. Credit: AziPaybarah

DeSmog: What is your reaction to the ban on fracking by Governor Cuomo and what does it mean for the anti-fracking movement nationally?

California Court Rejects Misleading Language In Local Fracking Ballot Initiative--Twice

Residents of La Habra Heights in Los Angeles County, California want their city to become the latest to ban fracking and other high intensity oil extraction methods, and have placed an initiative on the March 2015 ballot to do just that.

The residents and activists seeking to ban fracking in La Habra Heights won a significant battle on New Year’s Eve when inaccurate and misleading ballot language backed by the oil and gas industry was rejected by the Los Angeles Superior Court. Now they've won a second victory against the oil and gas companies trying to game the citizen initiative system.

“The Healthy City Initiative,” also known as Measure A, seeks to ban fracking and would also prohibit any new oil and gas wells from being drilled within city limits, as well as bar dormant wells from being reactivated. The intention is to stop La Habra Heights from becoming the latest fracking boom town without shuttering current oil and gas development projects, so as to have as minimal an impact on the local economy as possible while ensuring the future health and viabillity of the community.

Earthjustice sued the city of La Habra Heights on December 1 on behalf of residents, La Habra Heights Oil Watch, and the Center for Biological Diversity after the city included oil and gas industry language on the ballot that, according to an Earthjustice press release, “inaccurately summarizes the language that was circulated to and signed by voters in order to place the initiative on the ballot in the first place.”


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