State taking comment on Albany port oil heating project
Public comment being sought on facility designed to keep steady flow of crude at facility
Published on 1/21/2014 by the Times Union written by Brian Nearing
Albany: A public comment period on plans by an oil company at the Port of Albany to add a facility to heat crude oil to ease shipping during cold months will run though Jan. 31.
The Department of Environmental Conservation is still taking public comments on plans by Global Companies, a unit of Global Partners, based in Waltham, Mass., to build a 2,600-square-foot facility with up to seven massive boilers at the port's rail yard to heat crude as it is pumped out of rail cars and into storage tanks. Oil is then shipped out on barges headed downriver toward refineries on the east coast.
Global's application does not specify what kind oil would be heated, but some critics of the proposal worry it could be tar sands oil from Canada. Global already has DEC permission to ship up to 1.8 billion gallons of crude oil of any type annually through the port, and has been handling increasing shipments for the last two years of oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota.
As so-called "light, sweet" crude, the Bakken oil has not required heating. Tar sands crude is a thicker form of crude, and can be difficult to pump at low temperatures and during the winter.
As the U.S. pumps more and more oil from the upper Midwest, there is more oil than pipelines can handle, so rail shipments heading east are skyrocketing. In a kind of moving pipeline, massive oil trains can be more than a mile long and contain more than 100 cars carrying millions of gallons of highly flammable oil.
Recent derailments of oil trains in the U.S. and Canada have raised increasing concerns about safety. There have been huge explosions and fires from tanker derailments in Canada, North Dakota and Alabama. A derailment, followed by an explosion and massive fire in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6 last year killed 47 people.
On Monday, several cars in an oil train derailed on a railroad bridge in downtown Philadelphia, forcing the closing of a major expressway for more than a hour. There was no explosion or fire.
Global officials have not revealed what kind of crude they would be heating at the Albany port, and DEC paperwork for the company's air pollution permit, which covers only emissions from the boiler system, does not indicate it, either. Calls for comment to Global corporate headquarters were not returned Tuesday.
Meanwhile DEC paperwork for a draft air pollution permit for the boiler project indicates that Global wants permission to install up to seven boilers to heat crude, although earlier DEC paperwork from November indicated up to six boilers. A DEC spokesman said the earlier paperwork issued by DEC was incorrect, and that the size of project originally sought by Global remains unchanged.
According to a Jan. 9 report filed with city planners by Albany engineer Daniel Hershberg, who represents Global, the boiler facility would provide steam to heat up to 40 crude-laden rail tankers at a time. Cars would be heated for up to six hours at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for crude to be thinned enough for pumping.
Former Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro, who represented the area around the port, has asked for the project to be delayed until a public information forum is held. He notes that the Ezra Prentice Homes, an Albany Housing Authority development, is located immediately adjacent to the port and is home to hundreds of people.
Global projects that four to six of the 80- to 100-car trains that arrive each month would need to be heated, according to Hershberg's report.
In November, DEC officials ruled that the boiler plant would not result in increased air pollution emissions from the terminal, that the project would have no negative impact on the environment, and tentatively issued a modified air pollution permit pending public comment.
Crude oil shipments into and out of the port have skyrocketed in the last two years as the result of a shale oil boom in North Dakota.
Thousands of rail tankers from the Bakken oil fields are now bringing about 1.2 billion gallons of highly flammable crude oil a year into the port. Crude shipments are expected to grow, as state permits allow terminals operated by Global and another company at the port, Houston-based Buckeye Partners, to handle up to 2.8 billion gallons annually.
Comments on the Global project can be made to DEC through Karen M. Gaidasz, 1130 N. Westcott Road, Schenectady, NY 12306, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Link to article at the Times Union