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Oil Train Risk Forum Slated for Plattsburgh to Discuss Community Risk, Dangers to Environment

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Oil Train Risk Forum Slated for Plattsburgh to Discuss Community Risk,
Dangers to Environment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Monday, August 25, 2014

For more information:
John Sheehan, Adirondack Council, 518-441-1340
Lori Fisher, Lake Champlain Committee, 802-658-1421

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Local emergency services directors, federal spill-response officials, lake ecologists and advocates for healthy schools will join with regional environmental organizations and local residents Thursday night August 28, to discuss the risks of living near rail lines that transport millions of gallons of explosive Bakken crude oil through the Adirondack Park and the Champlain Valley.

The public forum will begin at 7 p.m. at the City Hall Auditorium. Admission is free.

The risks of Bakken crude oil rail shipments have been highlighted by a series of recent derailments in the U.S. and Canada resulting in water and soil contamination, deadly explosions and raging fires. A 2013 derailment involving nearly 80 tankers in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killed 47 people and devastated the town. A derailment in May in Lynchburg, Va., set the James River on fire.

Federal officials have said they would require the replacement of the leak-prone rail tanker cars (model DOT-111) involved in recent spills, fires and explosions. However, it will take years to carry out the current plan.

“We invite the public to come out to hear from local and federal officials about the risks associated with this oil train traffic in our communities, and the risks to local lands and waters, as well as the plans for responding if there is an accident that causes a spill or a fire,” said Diane Fish, Deputy Director of the Adirondack Council, a co-sponsor of the event. “A panel of local and federal officials and regional experts will lay out the issues and then take questions from the audience.”

Slated to appear on the panel are U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Emergency & Remedial Response division representatives Carl Pellegrino and Doug Kodama; Essex County Emergency Management Director Don Jaquish; Clinton County Emergency Management Director Eric Day; Claire Barnett of the Healthy Schools Network; and, Mark Malcoff of Lake Champlain Sea Grant.

The event is being hosted by the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Center for Biological Diversity and Lake Champlain Committee.

On average, 3.4 million gallons of explosive crude oil per day are shipped through the Champlain Valley on trains coming from the oil fields of North Dakota, through Canada, to Albany. Between five and nine trains per week use the Canadian Pacific Railroad line between Montreal and the Port of Albany on the Hudson River. Each train can haul up to 100 oil tankers. Each tank car carries about 34,000 gallons of oil.

“That is an enormous increase in oil shipments compared to just a few years ago,” said Lori Fisher, Executive Director of the Lake Champlain Committee. “But it may be just the beginning. If Canadian tar sands are processed into oil, the volume of crude oil shipped through the area is expected to double within two years or so. This will also add a new kind of oil to the list of things that may spill if a train accident occurs.”

Bakken crude is light and contains large amounts of methane gas, making it highly flammable. Tar sands oil is less explosive, but much heavier. It sinks rather than floating on water, making it impossible to remove via conventional boom-and-suction methods.

Every crude oil spill causes lasting environmental damage, the organizations noted, pointing to continuing problems in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico from the Exxon Valdez and British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon disasters. Closer to home, attempts to clean up oil spills on the St. Lawrence River (1976) and at a long-closed steel mill in southern St. Lawrence County continue to cost taxpayers millions of dollars, decades after they occurred.

“The Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks run alongside Lake Champlain for more than 130 miles, including 100 miles inside the Adirondack Park,” said Neil F. Woodworth, Executive Director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. “The tracks also cross the Saranac, Ausable and Bouquet rivers. For miles and miles, the tracks are just a few feet from the water’s edge. Any kind of crude oil spill would be an ecological disaster.”

Lake Champlain is ecologically rich, the drinking water source for nearly 200,000 Champlain Valley residents, and a key driver for the regional economy.

“We know the Adirondack Park is home to some of New York’s rarest and most sensitive wildlife, fish and plant life and we know trains derail,” said Mollie Matteson, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Much greater steps are needed immediately to protect this fragile, irreplaceable environment from the unchecked threat posed virtually every day by these dangerous crude oil trains.”

The tracks also run through the center of more than a dozen small communities and the City of Plattsburgh, within a short distance of schools, homes, businesses, farmlands, tourist accommodations, campgrounds, beaches and municipal offices.
Claire Barnett of the Healthy Schools Network will display a map of the schools that sit within a mile of the CP Rail line, making them vulnerable in a spill. Emergency Management directors Don Jaquish and Eric Day will discuss local risk assessments and response plans for Clinton and Essex counties. Carl Pellegrino and Doug Kodama of the EPA’s Region 2 office will discuss the statewide spill response update for all 500 miles of railroad carrying Bakken crude in New York. Mark Malcoff of Lake Champlain Sea Grant will discuss threats to the ecology of Lake Champlain.

The sponsoring organizations will provide action plans for those who want to urge state and federal officials to act on behalf of the Adirondack Park, its communities and Lake Champlain.

“There are multiple layers of government involved in the creation and review of railroad oil shipment policies and spill-response plans,” said Fish of the Adirondack Council. “We will provide information and guidance for those who want to take action. Our main goal, however, is to raise awareness of the issue and give the public a better understanding of what is at stake and what is expected to happen next.”

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