January 29, 2014
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Orders Review of Crude Oil Rail Safety in New York State

TOP Governor Cuomo Orders Review of Crude Oil Rail...

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced an executive order directing several State agencies to do a top-to-bottom review of safety procedures and emergency response preparedness related to shipments of volatile crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota in light of a series of out-of-state accidents, including one in Quebec that leveled a part of a town and left 47 people dead. Also, the NYS Commissioners of Environmental Conservation, Transportation, Health, and Homeland Security and Emergency Services issued a letter calling on federal authorities to take immediate actions to protect the States communities and natural resources from these potential disasters. Such actions should include the expedited adoption of permanent federal regulations based upon a comprehensive reassessment of the safety of shipments of crude oil, the implementation of stronger tank car safety and design standards, and upgraded measures to prevent and respond to crude oil spills on our rivers.


The safety of our communities, our residents and our natural resources must be the highest priority and we cannot afford to wait for a catastrophic accident to assess and reform the way this crude oil is transported through our State, said Governor Cuomo. New York State is taking swift and decisive action to ensure its readiness for potential disasters.


The rail transport of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota has gone from next to nothing four years ago to 800,000 barrels per day now nationally. Bakken crude travels over approximately 1,000 miles of New York rail and via ship and barge on the Hudson River from the Port of Albany, bound for refineries in Canada and the mid-Atlantic States. According to recent reports, The Port of Albany handles some 40,000 carloads annually or about 120 per day.


Rail and ship transport of crude oil has a better long term safety and environmental record than truck transport. However, Bakken crude is inherently more volatile than traditional crude and, therefore, demands that enhanced protections be enacted along the rail lines and waterways in New York and across the U.S.


Executive Order #125 directs the NYS Departments of Environmental Conservation, Transportation, and Health, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, in consultation with federal authorities, to conduct an extensive assessment of the States prevention and response rules and inspection programs involving the transportation of petroleum products by rail and water. The Executive Order directs the agencies to report to the Governor no later than April 30, 2014 summarizing the State's existing capacity to prevent and respond to accidents involving the shipment of crude oil by rail, ship, and barge, including the role that the local governments across the State have in protecting their communities, whether any statutory or regulatory changes are needed to increase safety, and how to improve coordination with federal agencies to improve the State's capacity to prevent and respond to such accidents.


In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr. of the U.S. Coast Guard, the State specifically seeks:


  • Revised design specifications of certain railcars to minimize the release of crude oil and/or other hazardous materials in the event of an accident;
  • Aggressive phase-out of certain tank cars that cannot be retrofitted;
  • More stringent standards to test the properties of crude oil being shipped by rail;
  • Amendments to federal standards for flammable liquids to include new combustible liquids such as Bakken crude oil; and
  • Review of the routing of crude oil trains to ensure they are the most appropriate.


The State also is requesting that the U.S. Coast Guard enact certain safety precautions to ensure that facilities and vessels safely transfer the Bakken crude oil from rail cars to ships and barges. These protocols would require that equipment, procedures and pre-arranged spills agreements be in place in specific locations, which must be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, for the rapid and effective response to any incidents, including pre-deployed assets all along the Hudson River in order to ensure emergency responders can immediately initiate cleanup operations.


The letter notes that New York is preempted from engaging in regulatory activity with respect to rail freight transportation or freight car safety standards; however, New York State and the Federal Railroad Administration have partnered to step up inspections of rail yards. In fact, Governor Cuomos recent budget includes funding to double the States current inspection capability on its 3,500 miles of track. The letter seeks a stepped-up, thorough and systematic federal rail maintenance and inspection effort in partnership with the State.


In addition, the State has already acted to ensure that local first responders train vigorously for all sorts of hazmat-related emergencies, including railcar disasters involving ethanol and crude oil. Specifically, the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services has issued millions of dollars in grants to ensure that local fire departments are able to sustain equipment and training programs and the State Department of Environmental Conservation has evaluated emergency response and prevention plans before granting permits for oil storage facilities.