Recently, Adirondack Mountain Club’s (ADK) Northwoods Chapter alerted ADK’s Public Affairs Office in Albany about a significant threat to Lake Champlain. We investigated and found that the Canadian Pacific Rail Line which travels from Canada along the shores of Lake Champlain to the Port-Of-Albany currently ships sweet light Bakken crude which is very volatile. One concern about these shipments is that the rail cars used, DOT-111s, are thin and vulnerable to rupture and explosion in derailments. In a press release last year, US Senator Schumer described the cars as “tragically flawed, causing potential damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials during derailments.”  The proximity of the rail line to Lake Champlain and to urban areas in Albany creates a significant hazard. This is a current and ongoing threat, but an even greater risk is on the horizon: the likely transport along this route of heavy crude which is dense enough to sink instead of float, making oil spill recovery much more difficult.   Moreover, given the delay in construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and great hurdles facing a Canadian pipeline connecting the Alberta tar sand deposits with Pacific coast ports, it is very likely that the Canadian Pacific will seek to transport the tar sand crude oil known as bitumen  from Montreal to the Port of Albany.  This high density bitumen would be even more damaging to the ecology of the lake than Bakken heavy crude oil. The Times Union interviewed Neil Woodworth, ADK’s Executive Director about the issue,

“Neil Woodworth of the Adirondack Mountain Club strongly suspects that the boilers at issue in Albany will be used for the tar sand crude known as bitumen in tank cars wending along the Champlain shore, heavy in impurities and heavy enough to sink to the bottom, a colossal environmental disaster waiting to happen. Spilled bitumen has proven to be nearly impossible to clean up at the bottom of a marsh or wetland, or the Kalamazaoo River, even after a billion dollar effort in Michigan.”

The Times Union’s Fred LeBrun also explained in his article that the Albany County executive, Dan McCoy, shut down the expansion of crude oil processing at the Port of Albany by Global Partners until a county health department public health and safety review can be completed.

Global Partners, the oil shipping company that is paying for these shipments, has applied to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for a permit to install seven heating boilers to heat rail tankers to liquefy the heavy crude oil or bitumen for easier transfer to barges or tankers.  This liquefy capacity would increase the number of bitumen trains traveling from the Alberta tar sands to Montreal and south to Albany along the shore of Lake Champlain. DEC recently extended the comment period on this permit application to June 2, 2014 and has requested more information from the company.

If you are concerned about this issue too, please contact ADK’s Public Affairs Office at 518-449-3870 by email.