- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The expansion of crude oil processing at the Hudson River Port of Albany, which has become a major hub for rail shipments of volatile North Dakota crude to coastal refineries in the last two years, will be halted by a moratorium issued Wednesday by Albany County Executive Dan McCoy.

The order requires a health impact study by the county before Waltham, Mass.-based Global Partners is allowed to add facilities to heat rail cars to liquefy thick crude like that mined in western Canada’s tar sands. That plan, along with Global’s major increase in rail shipments through the city, has drawn intense criticism from port-area residents, environmental groups and local politicians.

“Big Oil is accustomed to getting its way, and today’s action could be the first of its kind in the country which signals to the industry they cannot ride roughshod over our communities without consequence,” Environmental Advocates Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz said.

Scrutiny of crude oil shipment by rail has escalated in the aftermath of several major derailment disasters, including one that destroyed much of a town and killed 47 people in eastern Canada last year. Since the state Department of Environmental Conservation approved a permit in November 2012, Global has doubled the throughput of North Dakota Bakken Shale crude oil at its Albany terminal, bringing hundreds of rail tank cars daily through the heart of the city.

A coalition of environmental groups, Albany residents and city officials has asked DEC to require a full environmental impact study of Global’s application to install seven boilers to heat rail cars to liquefy thick crude so it flows better. The coalition also wants DEC to withdraw Global’s 2012 permit and require an extensive environmental impact study.

“Today’s moratorium echoes what we and our partner groups have been jointly calling for at the statewide level since January and finally responds to the hundreds of people who have come out to voice their concerns,” Riverkeeper said in a statement.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has ordered Global to do an environmental justice study of the impact of its proposed heating facilities on nearby low-income and minority neighborhoods, but it has not said whether it will require a more extensive environmental impact study.

“DEC is aggressively reviewing this permit application and all crude oil operations around the state,” agency spokesman Peter Constantakes said via email. “All options are on the table.”

Global didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a directive on Jan. 29 asking DEC and other state agencies to conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s spill prevention, response and inspection programs governing rail, ship and barge transportation of crude oil and make recommendations for program improvements. The agencies are to report their findings by April 30.

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