Albany fights oil shipping giant

Pat Gareau, Creative Editor

Hundreds of citizens, politicians and activists gathered at Giffen Memorial Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb.12 for a public hearing on the Port of Albany’s oil transportation expansion.

Global Companies at the Port of Albany, the region’s largest transporter of oil and petroleum products, has recently been granted a permit by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) which allows the building of seven boilers to heat crude oil for easier transportation.

The hearing was organized by the Albany Common Council and PAUSE (People of Albany for the Use of Safe Energy), an activist group.

“We are very nervous about this crude oil mixture coming through our neighborhoods,” said Lucille McKnight, Albany County Legislature member.

Carolyn McLaughlin, Albany Common Council president, said, “I believe DEC let the city of Albany down.”

The Albany County Legislature officially passed a declaration in which the majority opposed the expansion. Local lawmakers are requesting that the DEC revoke the permit to build the boilers and conduct a full environmental and safety review on their operations in Albany.

The plans were presented by Tom Keefe, regional director of Environmental Health and Safety at Global Companies.

“Safety is our top priority,” said Keefe.

However, most residents are in opposition to the project and did not seem convinced as many took advantage of the public hearing.

Neil Breslin, New York State Senator, opened the comments saying, “I’m here to applaud democracy in action.”

Many criticisms were about recent explosions, including a train in Ontario last year that was carrying oil and exploded killing nearly 50 people.

North Dakota has become a huge energy producer and the oil from the Bakken crude fields has been involved in multiple explosions.

A large percentage of the oil handled by Global Companies at the Port of Albany is from North Dakota. Therefore, Albany citizens want to make sure the increased transportation of oil won’t result in explosions, like in Ontario.

Global Companies has committed to an outreach program that includes taking public comments in response to community concerns. The hearing included the disbursement of information and relevant government agencies making themselves available for questions from the public. These included the Department of Health, Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany County Sheriff, Albany Fire Department, Coast Guard and NYS Department of Homeland Security.

“This meeting is information being pushed at us. We need these questions answered,” said Albany Common Council member Vivian Kornegay.

The public comment period will last until early April and the community has vowed to continue fighting to slow down and stop the expansion of oil transportation. Local politicians are largely behind the cause, including Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who endorsed a request for a full environmental review.

Governor Cuomo issued an executive order to commit a comprehensive review of safety procedures involved in shipping Bakken crude oil. Cuomo has also sent a letter to the federal government requesting updated specifications on rail cars and more strictly regulated testing on oil being shipped by rail.

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