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For Release: Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New York State Sends Letter To North Dakota Governor Dalrymple Supporting Proposed Regulations To Decrease Crude Oil Volatility

Treating Crude Oil to Remove Volatile Gases Before Transit by Rail Will Protect New Yorkers and Communities Near Rail Lines Across the Country

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens and state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald today sent a letter to North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple in support of proposed North Dakota state regulation changes that would require oil producers to remove volatile gases from Bakken crude oil prior to shipping the crude oil across the country by rail, further protecting New Yorkers who live and work near rail lines.

"In light of the devastating incidents in Quebec and North Dakota, there is no doubt that we need to make it safer to ship crude oil across the country and through New York State," DEC Commissioner Martens said. "One of the best ways to do this is to take action at the source, before the oil is shipped through our communities. North Dakota has proposed stronger precautions on this kind of rail shipments, that will benefit everyone who lives or works near a crude oil transport line - including New Yorkers. We urge North Dakota to act swiftly on these regulations to make communities safer and more protected from oil train accidents."

NYSDOT Commissioner McDonald said, "Because of Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York is using every tool necessary to protect our communities and ensure the safe transport of crude oil through the state. Taking action to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude oil before it ships is a common-sense solution that will provide an added measure of safety. We ask that North Dakota quickly take action to protect communities in New York and across the country."

Federal oversight of the interstate railroad network and tank car standards explicitly preempts states from independently regulating crude transport once the crude oil enters the railroad network. Once crude oil is shipped, neither New York nor any other state can compel changes as the oil companies and the railroads are following the prescribed rules. North Dakota, through its oversight of oil and gas wells, is uniquely positioned to enhance safety and reduce downstream risk to many states before the crude oil enters the federally regulated railroad network.

To view New York State's letter to Governor Dalrymple, click here. (322 kb PDF file)

In January 2014 Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 125 directing a comprehensive assessment of safety procedures and emergency response preparedness related to the shipment of crude oil. The state's report was released on April 30. The report includes a priority recommendation to remove dissolved gas in Bakken crude oil to reduce its volatility prior to shipment.

In recent comments on the proposed updated federal tank car regulations, New York State again urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to require such pretreatment. As this is a common practice in other oil producing areas, such as Texas, it is not only prudent for health and safety purposes but also economically feasible.

The Cuomo administration has taken a series of actions to safeguard New York's residents, communities, waterways and lands from potential serious incidents involving the increased shipment of volatile crude oil by rail or vessel in the state, including:

  • secured the commitment of the federal government to update long overdue oil spill response plans that are required by federal statute;
  • urged federal officials to expeditiously implement stringent regulatory changes that would: improve tank car design specifications and expedite the phase-out of older, unsafe rail cars, require comprehensive, geographically specific oil spill response plans for crude oil trains, implement more stringent standards to test and stabilize crude oil, mandate automated braking systems for rail companies and review the routing of crude oil to ensure the most appropriate routes;
  • directed state agencies to implement an aggressive enforcement and inspection effort to better protect communities from train derailments carrying crude oil and to hire five additional rail inspectors, as well as increase emergency response assets;
  • coordinated inspection blitzes across state and issued fines to companies that fail to comply with current state regulations related to derailments; and
  • established a multi-agency working group along with partner railroads to coordinate preparedness activities and to improve response scenarios.

"The proposed North Dakota regulations seek to address comments I presented to the United States Department of Transportation in September about the stabilization of crude-by-rail prior to shipment," said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy. "The monumental increase in crude oil shipping through our community demands a strong response. We cannot wait any longer. It is my duty to protect the health and safety of county residents, and we need the federal government to strengthen the rules. Our formal comments to USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx provided our response to the proposed rules and they will help address the safety concerns we have. The volatility of the Bakken crude is of major concern in our community and I urge Governor Dalrymple to support this safety measure."

City of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said, "I was proud to join with Albany County Executive McCoy in submitting comments to the USDOT on the vital need for stabilization of crude oil prior to rail shipment. Stabilization will make it safer for Albany residents when it comes to the transport of crude oil and must be done. I thank Commissioner Martens and Commissioner McDonald for urging North Dakota to address this issue at the source by removing volatile gases from crude oil before it is shipped."

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