December 26, 2013
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Announces Continued Efforts to Protect New Yorkers from Crude Oil Disasters

Governor Cuomo Announces Continued Efforts to Protect New Yorkers from Crude Oil Disasters

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced additional efforts to protect New Yorkers from potential disasters involving the transport of crude oil, including a second targeted round of rail inspections designed to enforce freight rail safety regulations, as well as urging changes to federal spill response plans to better reflect and properly address threats posed by the increasing transport of crude oil throughout New York State.

The state is continuing proactive inspections to protect New Yorkers and prevent crude oil accidents, Governor Cuomo said. Our preparedness and response plans must be adequate ahead of timenot after tragedy strikes. We have seen too many crude oil disasters, and with continued comprehensive safety and emergency response reviews and efforts to improve federal policies and regulation, we can help ensure that New York is doing everything possible to prevent mishaps and keep crude oil transport safe."

Following several severe accidents across the U.S. and Canada, Governor Cuomo issued an Executive Order on January 28 that directed several State agencies to conduct a top-to-bottom review of safety procedures and emergency response preparedness related to rail, ship and barge shipments of crude oil. Out of growing concern regarding the volatility of crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, agencies were requested to work with federal partners to enhance preparedness and oversight, and increase inspections.

To view photos of the inspections, please visit the following links:

On Wednesday, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) completed a second series of targeted inspections at rail yards in the Capital Region and Western New York. Inspectors from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) also participated in the inspection blitz. Inspectors performed a mechanical inspection of brakes and other safety equipment, including tanker cars that carry crude oil, as well as rails, ties and other equipment. They also performed a hazardous materials inspection to ensure equipment is in line with regulations, including valves, valve closures, and placards and decals that describe the cargo being shipped, as well as checking dates for the last tank inspection and pressure test. NYSDOTs first inspections were completed in late February and found numerous issues, including defective equipment, broken rails and non-compliant tank cars.

NYSDOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said, Safety is our top priority, and NYSDOT is committed to ensuring that the freight rails and equipment meet all standards and do not pose any hazards. Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, NYSDOT will continue to partner with federal officials on this coordinated enforcement effort, in response to the increased shipment of crude oil by rail.

Findings from Wednesdays Rail Inspections

Wednesday's inspections were conducted at the Kenwood Rail Yard in Albany, the West Albany Yard in Colonie, the Selkirk Rail Yard in southern Albany County, the Frontier Rail Yard in Buffalo, and the Niagara Rail Yard in Niagara Falls.

Capital Region Inspections

  • At the Kenwood Yard in Albany, inspectors examined 120 DOT-111 tank cars for mechanical defects and found one defective brake shoe and 15 wheels with "shell type" wheel defects. This condition is characterized by the degradation and loss of the hardened steel wheel surface, resulting in flat areas, which cause a pounding effect on the rails. Although these wheel conditions are not known to have contributed to derailments, the cars were taken out of service until the wheels can be repaired. The inspectors also inspected 64 tank cars for hazardous materials faults, and discovered three minor defects.
  • At the West Albany Yard, inspectors examined two miles of CSX-owned track and found seven non-critical defects, which are usually minor problems such as loose rail joints or loose or missing fasteners, and must be repaired and re-inspected within 30 days. Inspectors also looked over two miles of Transflo Industrial tracks and found a broken rail, which was taken out of service. Twelve other non-critical defects were also found.
  • At the Selkirk Rail Yard in Albany County, inspectors examined one mile of track and found 20 non-critical defects.

Western New York Inspections

  • At the Frontier Rail Yard in Buffalo, inspectors examined 102 DOT-111 tank cars for mechanical defects and found seven defects, including a brake shoe that was worn down to metal on a rail car that was presented as ready for departure. Inspectors for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a violation for partial failure to perform a 1000-mile brake test.
  • Inspectors also examined 58 DOT-111 tank cars at the Frontier Yard for hazardous materials defects and found three defects for improper placards. FRA inspectors also issued one violation to a shipper, DPTS Marketing, LLC of Newtown, North Dakota, for a loose air induction line. Inspectors boarded six trains (three carrying crude oil and three carrying ethanol) to check hazardous materials shipping paperwork, and did not find any issues.
  • At the Niagara Yard in Niagara Falls, inspectors examined 111 cars, including 91 mixed freight cars and 20 DOT-111 tank cars and found 12 minor defects. Inspectors also looked over four miles of track and discovered two switch point defects, which were immediately repaired by CSX. Inspectors also found 33 other non-critical defects.

State Seeks Changes to Federal Oil Spill Response Plans

Earlier this week, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens issued a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) urging the agency to update its decades-old oil spill response plans. These Inland Area Contingency Plans and General Response Plans are important because they identify critical environmental areas and local infrastructure at risk in a particular region, including:

  • Sensitive environmental areas and infrastructure, such as wetlands, recreational areas, endangered species habitats and drinking water supplies;
  • Critical infrastructure, including utilities and power plants, water intakes, wastewater treatment plants, transmission lines and transportation corridors;
  • Culturally sensitive areas, including historical and archeological sites and tribal lands;
  • High-risk locations, including facilities and transportation infrastructure that present a high risk of release of oil in order to address location-specific response strategies; and
  • Natural disaster impact areas.

The purpose of these plans is to provide a mechanism to plan for potential complications given overlapping jurisdictions and potentially divergent interests of the parties involved. Elements of these plans include:

  • A description of the responsibilities in responding to, mitigating, or preventing a substantial threat of discharge for owners, operators and federal, state and local agencies;
  • A list of resources available for response to discharges, such as personnel, equipment and supplies;
  • A description of procedures for expediting decisions on the use of dispersants; and
  • A description of how the plan is integrated with other plans.

NYS DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said, It is critical that federal spill response plans be revised to protect New Yorks most environmentally sensitive areas and critical infrastructure from oil spill disasters. Under Governor Cuomos leadership, NYS DEC will continue to partner with our federal counterparts, including the U.S. EPA, to protect our residents, communities and natural resources from the growing threat of crude oil being transported through our state.