December 29, 2013
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Takes Action to Better Protect New York From Crude Oil Transportation Disasters

Governor Cuomo Takes Action to Better Protect New York From Crude Oil Transportation Disasters

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today sent a letter to the White House urging immediate federal action to strengthen national standards and regulation of crude oil transport. Accompanying the letter was the States comprehensive crude oil transportation safety report, which was prepared by five state agencies in accordance with an Executive Order issued by the Governor in January. The report details ten critical federal recommendations and presents a package of state administrative, regulatory, and legislative action.

With the United States becoming the number one producer of crude oil in the world, New York State has become a central route for the rail transport of crude oil, with tens of millions of gallons of oil passing along the state's rail corridors each day. Communities in 22 counties, including Buffalo, Syracuse, Utica, Albany, and Plattsburgh, and nearly all of the states major waterways are home to this network. The Governor's actions today are designed to establish proactive safety precautions to help prevent the disasters that have occurred in other states and in Canada as transit infrastructures adjust to the crude oil boom.

New York is taking aggressive steps to protect our communities from potential risks created by trains moving massive amounts of crude oil through our state, Governor Cuomo said. While rail transportation of crude oil has risen dramatically, federal regulations and safety precautions have lagged behind. New York is a major hub for this transportation and the State has taken a series of proactive steps to protect our citizens from any potential emergencies. Now we are urging the Federal Government, which has the most authority in this area, to join us in implementing major safety reforms that will safeguard our communities from crude oil disasters.

Governor Sends Letter to Federal Government Urging Swift Action:

Governor Cuomo sent a letter today to the White House, urging swift action on four priority safety matters, including removing inadequate tank cars from service; strengthening and codifying voluntary industry safety measures to safeguard the transport of Bakken crude by rail; expediting the completion of environmental response plans to better protect the environment from oil spills; and developing classification and testing of Bakken and other petroleum products, which is critical to effective emergency response to disasters. The letter is available here.

State Agencies Issue Comprehensive Report Detailing Federal, State, and Industry Actions:

This year, the United States passed Saudi Arabia to become the number one producer of crude oil in the world. Much of the spike is from production areas in North Dakota known as the Bakken formation, which has grown over 1,000 percent in the past decade. In the absence of adequate pipelines, Bakken crude has been transported on railroads, or so-called virtual pipelines. A significant percentage of this crude is now traveling through New York to refineries in the Mid-Atlantic and Canada. Three significant incidents involving the rail transport of Bakken crude oil claimed life and property and revealed the danger of transporting this particular hazardous material. Despite improved federal and state safety records, the report underscores the need for stricter rail tank car standards, better information on the chemical characteristics of the crude oil being shipped to ensure safer transportation practices, more aggressive response plans for emergencies and spills, and more support for emergency responders.

The agencies report, entitled Transporting Crude Oil in New York State: A Review of Incident Prevention and Response Capacity, provides an overview of the public safety and environmental risks inherent in the domestic crude oil boom and was prepared by the NYS Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Transportation (DOT), Health (DOH), the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The report is available here.


Regulation of the nations railroads is almost exclusively within the purview of the federal government. Recognizing this, the report urges the following federal actions:

  • Improve Rail Transportation Safety to Prevent Incidents:
    • Expedite the strengthening of federal rules to replace or retrofit rail tank cars that have been deemed inadequate as nearly 82 percent of tanks cars carrying Bakken crude across the nation are DOT-111 cars with a poor safety record, and even federal investigations have confirmed that designs flaws make them susceptible to damage and loss of hazardous materials during a derailment;
    • Mandate and strengthen the voluntary railroad industry measures including: increase track inspections; improve braking systems and mandate use of new technology tracking systems to determine the safest routes for trains carrying 20 or more carloads of crude oil; improve emergency response preparedness with additional training and funds as well as developing an inventory of resources; and
    • Update regulations to require route-specific contingency plans for trains carrying crude oil and improve regulations to make industrial facility railroads subject to the same standards and inspection protocols as main line railroads.
  • Strengthen Environmental Protections to Ensure Effective Spill Responses: The report calls on the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to:
    • Expedite environmental and contingency response plans, which guide incident response and catalogue environmental resources, as well as vessel response plans to ensure tankers and tugs have protocols that reflect the risks associated with both Bakken crude oil and another type of crude oil from the Canadian Tar Sands;
    • Update the much-delayed Oil Spill Research and Technology Plan, which hasnt been revised in nearly twenty years, and which fosters joint research and development of oil spill response and best practices development; and
    • Establish a civilian planning position in the U.S. Coast Guard New York Sector to provide organizational continuity to better support New Yorks preparedness.
  • Improve Emergency Preparedness: The report calls on:
    • The United Nations Committee of Experts on Transport of Dangerous Goods to recommend a new classification and unique identifiers for Bakken crude oil, which would enable effective packaging and inform emergency responders and regulators as to the qualities of the product being shipped;
    • USDOT to restore funding cuts to the Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grant Program, which supports local effectiveness in safely and efficiently handling hazardous materials accidents and incidents and to encourage a comprehensive approach to emergency training and planning by incorporating the unique challenges of responses to transportation situations; and
    • US Department of Homeland Security to update the authorized equipment list eligible for grant funding to include key oil firefighting equipment.

Industry Actions:

The report underscores the importance of thorough and dedicated industry engagement. In addition to calling for the support for the recommended federal and state actions outlined above, the report specifically details where industry officials must commit to making vital improvements, including demands to:

  • Implement a web-based information access system by rail companies by the end of 2014, which would be similar to the current CSX NOW to provide real-time information on hazardous materials;
  • Expedite a detailed risk analysis for crude oil, similar to those of other volatile hazardous materials, to aid in the determination of the safest and most secure rail routes for trains with 20 or more cars of crude oil. This analysis would consider such factors as volume, trip length, population density along the route, local emergency response capability, track quality and signal systems;
  • Engage communities across New York State to reduce overall public safety concerns and any environmental impacts
  • Enhance state and local first responder capabilities; and
  • Commit to reducing the volatility of Bakken crude oil by actively removing dissolved gases before shipment by rail car.

Governor Announces State Reforms:

In an effort to address the most immediate concerns involving Bakken crude oil, under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, New York State has already taken aggressive action, including numerous rail inspections in various regions of the state, spill and preparedness exercises, for which photos of a recent drill can be viewed here, broader training efforts and stepped up communications and planning with federal authorities, industry representatives and local emergency responders.

In addition, Governor Cuomo today announced an aggressive package of administrative, regulatory and legislative reforms to strengthen the states safety procedures and emergency response preparedness for the shipment of crude oil through the state. These state actions include:

  • Emergency Preparedness and Response:
    • Secure more complete information on the volume and characteristics of crude oil being transported and stored in New York;
    • Develop a one-stop web portal that provides access to emergency points of contact, training, grants and other preparedness and response resources;
    • Partner with federal, industry and local response organizations to develop a comprehensive, tiered response asset network;
    • Develop a comprehensive response asset database to enable the rapid deployment of equipment;
    • Partner with federal security agencies to improve security outreach;
    • Conduct a thorough review of key unsecure locations to assess and deter intentional tampering with crude oil railcars, including security assessment for such components as lighting, access control measures and surveillance and monitoring capabilities; and
    • Conduct a thorough review of current federal, state and industry response plans to ensure efficient planning and application.
  • Water Transport and Environmental and Spill Preparedness:
    • Continue to partner with the U.S. EPA and U.S. Coast Guard to develop geographic response plans for all areas of the state;
    • Enact regulations to require the pre-transfer booming around rail-to-barge operations and only allow transfer operations in locations that meet state requirements or have been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard; and
    • Develop a more effective plume modeling capability to assist first responders.
  • Rail Safety Measures:
    • Expand the railroad inspection program with additional inspectors and use of automated flaw detection equipment; and
    • Improve rail incident reporting requirements and ensure compliance through stronger statutes, including advancing legislation to increase fines for failure to swiftly notify state officials after a derailment to $25,000 per day.