- Associated Press - Monday, March 24, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York officials asked the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to update a contingency plan for dealing with oil spills amid the rapid expansion of rail shipments of crude oil from North Dakota across New York to coastal refineries.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens sent a letter Monday to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. He said under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the EPA is responsible for creating Inland Area Contingency Plans to improve preparedness for oil spills.

A review of crude oil rail safety ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January found immediate action was needed by the EPA to update contingency plans and develop response plans for environmentally sensitive areas, Martens said.

Cuomo directed state agencies to do a comprehensive review of safety procedures and emergency response preparedness related to shipments of crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota in light of a series of rail disasters last year, including one in Quebec that killed 47 people. The agencies are to report by the end of April on their findings.

EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears said the agency will review the DEC letter and respond to the specific requests.

EPA is engaged in a range of activities to make sure that crude oil is being transported, handled and stored properly,” Mears said. “We are actively enhancing our prevention and response efforts including inspections of oil storage facilities.”

The Port of Albany on the Hudson River has become a major hub for crude oil transport by rail and ship in the last two years. In November 2012, DEC approved a permit that allowed Global Partners of Waltham, Mass., to increase throughput at its port facilities from a combined limit of 450 million gallons a year of gasoline, ethanol and crude oil to a limit of 1.8 billion gallons per year of crude oil.

Residents and environmental groups have raised safety concerns as hundreds of railroad tanker cars of Bakken crude are now rolling through communities from Buffalo to Albany and from the Canadian border south to New York City.

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