Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order Wednesday requiring state agencies to review safety regulations and emergency responses for crude oil shipments.
About 40,000 carloads of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota move through New York each year.
In his executive order, the governor said rail cars transporting crude oil traverse 1,000 miles of New York State’s 3,500-mile freight rail network.
The crude trains travel from Western New York along the Mohawk River to the Port of Albany.
And from Canada trains cross the border at Rouse’s Point along Lake Champlain to the Port of Albany, “where it is then transported south by rail, ship, and barge on or along the Hudson River and along or through New York communities to refineries in mid-Atlantic states.”
“The safety of our communities, our residents and our natural resources must be the highest priority and we cannot afford to wait for a catastrophic accident to access and reform the way this crude oil is transported through our state.”
Crude oil hasn’t traditionally been handled as potentially explosive. But Bakken crude is unusually volatile because it holds high levels of butane and propane.
Last month a crude train derailed and exploded near Casselton, N.D. There were no injuries but most of the town’s 2,300 were forced to evacuate while a toxic cloud spread over the area.
In July, a derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec killed 47 people and destroyed much of the town.
In November, a train hauling Bakken crude from North Dakota derailed and exploded in Alabama, spilling more than 700,000 gallons of oil from 26 tanker cars. No one was killed in that accident.
Earlier this month, a crude train derailed in northwestern New Brunswick, Canada and erupted in a fireball that forced the evacuation of about 60 people in the sparsely populated area.
Railroads and energy companies agreed in meetings two weeks ago to make voluntary safety changes in shipping crude oil, U.S. federal regulators said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation oversaw meetings of executives from the railroads and the industry group American Petroleum Institute.
The federal initiative will include new recommendations for tank cars to handle the more volatile crude.
Gov. Cuomo said in a statement Thursday: “The safety of our communities, our residents and our natural resources must be the highest priority and we cannot afford to wait for a catastrophic accident to access and reform the way this crude oil is transported through our State. New York is taking swift and decisive action to ensure its readiness for potential disasters.”
Cuomo ordered the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Transportation, and Health, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, and the state Energy Research and Development Authority to report back by April 30 with their findings.
In the 2014-15 executive budget, Cuomo proposed to double funding for the state’s current inspection capability of its 3,500 miles of railroad tracks, the National Journal said.
He also asked the U.S. Coast Guard “to review and propose certain safety precautions for facilities and vessels while transferring Bakken crude oil from rail cars to ships and barges,” the report said.
Federal transportation rules preempt state laws. So any New York initiative needs to be coordinated with the federal guidelines.