State regulators said Thursday they’ll require further environmental review before deciding whether to allow a fuel transport company to install facilities at the Port of Albany that critics say would make the port a hub for heavy Canadian tar sands crude oil.
The Department of Environmental Conservation informed Global Partners of Waltham, Massachusetts, that it was rescinding its 2013 notice that found no significant adverse air quality impacts associated with the company’s proposed project.
The company wants to install seven boilers to warm rail tankers filled with dense crude called bitumen to facilitate offloading to Hudson River barges bound for coastal refineries.
DEC said a review of 19,000 comments submitted during the public comment period raised significant issues, such as a lack of sufficient information about hydrogen sulfide emissions. The agency said bitumen, a thick, semi-solid form of petroleum extracted from the tar sands of Alberta in western Canada, has a relatively high level of hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compounds compared to the Bakken crude oil now being transported by rail to the Global Partners facility from North Dakota.
DEC said concerns about potential adverse health impacts, odors and corrosion associated with sulfur compounds were not considered when the agency issued its initial Negative Declaration notice. The agency noted a 137-unit public housing complex was less than a quarter-mile from a storage tank Global Partners proposed to retrofit with heating coils to store heated bitumen.
Global Partners stored gasoline, ethanol, distillate, butane and crude oil in 16 above ground storage tanks at its Albany terminal between 2007 and 2011, but since 2013 “it has become increasingly apparent that as a result of the series of modifications to Global’s permits, the mix of materials stored at this facility would likely change to include increased volumes of tar sands oil and other heavy crudes,” DEC said in its notice to Global Partners.
The agency said its Negative Declaration also failed to fully consider the adequacy of Global Partner’s plan to address potential spills of bitumen into the Hudson River. The heavy substance sinks in water and is difficult to clean up.
A pipeline spill of bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 cost more than $1 billion to clean up, and residual oil remains in wetlands.
Global Partners has 10 days to respond.
“As always, we are committed to fully complying with all applicable environmental, health and safety regulations,” Global Partners Executive Vice President Edward Faneuil said. “Global is reviewing the notice and will respond in a timely manner.”
Riverkeeper and other environmental groups filed a lawsuit in June 2014, challenging the DEC’s decision not to require an environmental impact statement. Riverkeeper said state law required an environmental impact statement due to significant issues, ranging from air pollutants to the increased risk of fire and explosion in downtown Albany.
“It is great that the DEC put the health of people and the health of New York’s environment first and will require that this proposal go through a full and comprehensive review,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “We need to know and avoid any impacts on our air, water, climate and public health before a decision is made to put Tar Sands on the Hudson.”