Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the U.S. Coast Guard to update their oil spill contingency plan to include specifics for the Hudson River, and to do so ahead of their current timeline. Schumer's push comes in response to an Albany Times Union report about a near-environmental catastrophe that occurred last winter in which an oil tanker carrying over 12 million gallons of crude oil ran aground and ruptured its hull. While no oil was spilled after the ship ran aground, the Times Union report showed that it took the U.S. Coast Guard nearly three hours to notify the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) of the incident and to confirm that no oil had been spilled into the river, among other concerns. Schumer said that the increase in oil shipping to the Port of Albany is great for the region's economic development, but that this media report highlights a number of Hudson River-area deficiencies in this two-year-old response plan developed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Currently, the U.S. Coast Guard, whose jurisdiction extends up the Hudson River and includes the Port of Albany, has a contingency plan for the Port of New York and New Jersey, and doesn't plan to update the plan until 2015. Schumer noted that with oil shipments along the Hudson River set to reach one billion gallons a year, plus the unique spill risks and cleanup constraints of the Hudson River as compared to the Port of New York and New Jersey, the U.S. Coast Guard should update their oil spill contingency plan for the Hudson River as soon as possible.
In a letter to the U.S. Coast Guard, Schumer highlighted the concerns that he wants addressed in an update to the Area Contingency plan so that it better covers the Hudson River and its increased oil traffic. Specifically, Schumer asked that the Coast Guard focus on streamlining communications amongst local agencies and developing Hudson River-specific mitigation plans, particularly in light of the Hudson River's narrow passages and full tidal cycle. Schumer pressed for the plan to be updated to include Hudson River-area contacts of private companies and port authorities, which are currently lacking and impede communication in the chance of disaster. He also suggested that the plan better address the communications and mitigation challenges posed by the Upper Hudson, and urged they set a clear timeline for regular "spill drills" in the Upper Hudson to prepare for worst-case scenarios.
"While increased shipping along the Hudson means tremendous economic benefits that I wholeheartedly support, there are also inherent risks and we must adjust response procedures accordingly, without delay," said Schumer. "Simply put: the Hudson River poses vastly different prevention and mitigation challenges to potential oil spills than the Port of New York and New Jersey--and the contingency plan should be updated to reflect that, because every minute we save in responding to an oil spill by having the right plan of action in place, we save countless miles of coast line, protect the livelihoods of thousands of New Yorkers, and help minimize damage for local businesses. I am therefore asking the U.S. Coast Guard to review and update their contingency plan and provide Hudson River-specific recommendations for the region, sooner rather than later."
According to the report by the Times Union, the near-disaster last winter in which an oil tanker carrying 12 million gallons of oil ran aground tested the Coast Guard's ability to respond to a potential spill on the Hudson River. It took the response team roughly three hours to confirm by air that the tanker was not spilling oil into the river -- a dangerous amount of time if the tanker was leaking. In addition, the Coast Guard Command Center in New York had to rely on reports from third parties to determine the extent of the damage. Schumer noted that the Area Contingency Plan which covers Albany does not mention the manager of the Port of Albany or either of the two oil shippers that operate in the Port of Albany or include their contact information to facilitate containment and mitigation efforts. In addition, Schumer highlighted that the rapid-response resources and communications team were all located in the New York City and cannot easily be dispensed to the upper Hudson.
Schumer also noted that an updated contingency plan with considerations for the Hudson River would facilitate better lines of communication between the Coast Guard and the Department of Environmental Conservation and would allow for a more immediate response in the event of an oil spill. Furthermore, Schumer argued that the challenges posed by the Hudson's narrow waterways, miles of shorelines and constant tides made an oil spill even more damaging and harder to contain.
The DEC is currently weighing permits that would allow up to one billion gallons of oil to be moved out of the Port of Albany each year. Schumer applauds plans to bring increased business to the region. Between Buckeye Partners and Global Partners, the two oil shippers along the Hudson, 395,000 barrels of oil come into the Port of Albany on rail cars a day. That is roughly 16.6 million gallons of oil a day which travel the 150 miles down the Hudson River and out the Atlantic. The New York State DEC is currently reviewing new permits that would more than double the amount of oil that could be shipped down the river to one billion gallons a year. Schumer noted that the increased shipping has great potential for economic growth in the region; and a Hudson River-specific contingency plan update would help protect that potential for growth.
A copy of Senator Schumer's letter to the U.S. Coast Guard appears below:
Dear Admiral Papp:
I write to urge that the United States Coast Guard (USCG) issue a revised New York/New Jersey Area Contingency Plan (ACP) that will adequately factor in the development of significant increases in the shipping of crude oil in the Hudson River. At the moment, the USCG's jurisdiction extends up the Hudson River and includes the Port of Albany, but it does not plan on revising the area contingency plan until 2015. I believe that a recent near environmental catastrophe last winter involving an oil tanker carrying over 12 million gallons of crude oil running aground and rupturing its hull, and plans to double the amount of oil shipped down the river to one billion gallons a year call for an immediate revision of oil spill contingency plans that factors in future opportunities and risks.
According to a report by the Albany Times Union, an oil tanker carrying 12 million gallons of crude oil from North Dakota down the Hudson River ran aground and ruptured its hull last winter. An environmental catastrophe in the form of a major spill was fortuitously averted, but my concern is how long it took to reach the scene of the accident. Records show that it took nearly three hours after the accident for the USCG to get an aircraft to the scene to confirm there was no major spill. In addition, the Coast Guard Command Center in New York had to rely on information from third parties to determine the extent of the damage, and rapid response resources and communications are all located in New York City, where they cannot easily be dispersed to the upper Hudson. It also concerns me that the Area Contingency Plan for the region does not include the Manager of the Port of Albany or the two major oil shippers that operate in the Port of Albany or include their contact information.
New oil reserves unlocked from the Bakken formation in North Dakota has presented a significant economic opportunity to the Port of Albany, which is promoting job growth in the region. Between Buckeye Partners and Global Partners, the two shipping companies moving oil along the Hudson, 395,000 barrels of oil per day come into the Port of Albany on rail cars per day. That is roughly 16.6 million gallons a day which travel the 150 miles down the Hudson River and out the Atlantic. That is just the beginning, that amount will grow significantly over the next couple of years. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is currently reviewing new permits that would more than double the amount of oil shipped down the river to one billion gallons a year.
Therefore, I ask that the USCG update the Area Contingency Plan to include local contacts of private companies and port authorities in the region, address Hudson River-specific communication and mitigation challenges posed by the Upper Hudson, and set a timeline for regular "spill drills" to prepare for worst-case scenarios. An expedited revision of the updated contingency plan with considerations for the Hudson River would facilitate better lines of communication between the Coast Guard and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and would allow for a more immediate response in the event of an oil spill. It is vital that USCG address the risks that come with a significant growth in the transportation of crude in a region that is not sufficiently addressed in current response plans. The Hudson's narrow waterways, miles of shorelines and full tidal cycle would make an oil spill even more damaging and harder to contain in the face of insufficient preparation. Well before 2015, before it is too late, we need to urgently have the right plan of action in place to save countless miles of coast line, the livelihoods of thousands of New Yorkers, and a diverse body of wildlife that has long inhabited the shores of the Hudson River.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me or staff if you have any questions.
Charles E. Schumer