The people protest Albany, N.Y., oil trains

At the urging of Albany, N.Y., neighborhood residents who were joined by several environmental organizations, on March 12 Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy placed a moratorium on oil company Global Partners’ plans to install seven boilers to heat tar sands oil here before loading it onto barges to ship down the Hudson River.

At the same time, associates of the infamous billionaire Koch brothers announced plans for a 150-mile pipeline between the Albany train depot and the Bayway oil refinery in Linden, N.J., which is within the New York harbor area. This pipeline would run along the New York Thruway.

McCoy halted the oil heating plans under a New York state public health law that “empowers county health departments to address threats to public health or safety.” He said that he will not lift the moratorium “until a public health investigation is carried out and action plans are made for large-scale disasters resulting from the transport or processing of oil.” (, March 13)

Thirteen oil train cars derailed from a 110-car train in the CSX rail complex in Selkirk, N.Y., just outside of Albany, on Feb. 28. Fortunately, there was no leak or explosion. There have, however, been fiery explosions in Alabama, North Dakota and New Brunswick, Canada. An oil train derailment and explosion last July killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, as it incinerated much of the town’s downtown area.

Residents of the Ezra Prentice Homes community in Albany attended the press conference where McCoy announced his moratorium. Their homes are just across a fence from the main oil train depot in Albany, where row after row of puncture-prone DOT-111 oil train cars are parked.

Residents and leaders of several environmental groups praised McCoy’s move.

The moratorium does not impede the oil train flow into Albany from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, a flow which has grown over the last two years to 1 billion gallons a year. Permits by oil shippers have already been given to allow oil companies to ship 2.8 billion gallons of oil per year through Albany, especially as tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, joins the flow.

But certainly these same regulations could be used to ban the entry of non-updated DOT-111 oil train cars that federal, state and local agencies have declared extremely unsafe, particularly for the transport of volatile Bakken oil.

Even Wall Street’s Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called these oil trains “a ticking time bomb.”

The other menace from the oil heaters that the executive order blocks are their emissions of illness-causing chemicals. In Detroit’s Boynton neighborhood, a poor working-class community, residents have long protested the tar sands processing at the nearby Marathon refinery.

To move the thick oil through pipelines to the refinery, a chemical called dilute bitumen, or “dilbit,” is used. It contains volatile hydrocarbons, including benzene, a known human carcinogen. ­(

Al-Jazeera reports: “According to the Michigan Department of Public Health, consistently elevated levels of cancer and mortality rates from cancer were recorded in Boynton’s ZIP code, 48217, reported as the most polluted in Michigan.” (March 3)

Albany residents have every reason to fight plans to install these oil-heating boilers near their homes. Environmental groups have joined them in opposition, pointing out also the additional risk to wildlife on and in the Hudson River should one of these oil barges with tar sands oil spring a leak.

A pipeline rupture of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan has already cost $800 million to clean, and many scientists say that the dispersant used to break up the thick oil continues to harm wildlife in and on the river.

But Big Oil has not given up. On March 13, Pilgrim Pipeline Holding, which is operated by former high-ranking executives for Koch Industries, announced plans to build a pipeline from Albany to the ocean-port Bayway refinery.

A spokesperson for Pilgrim Pipeline told the press that “a pipeline would take a lot of oil barges off the Hudson.” (Albany Times Union, March 12) What he did not say is that this would mean the continued surge of dangerous oil train shipments to Albany.

The Koch brothers have supported climate-change denier campaigns and organizations. They also financially back Americans for Prosperity, which tried to stop New York state’s climate-change control program to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses. They failed.

The pressure put on by the Albany community and environmental groups has won an important victory to ensure the safety of these neighborhoods and the environment. It clearly shows what an organized people can do. But the struggle against this menace by Big Oil is not over.