By Rebecca Martin
** Public comment has been extended to December 6th. Our post reflects this change.
VIEW: Commercial Shipping Organizations Proposal
It is always great when we have the opportunity to sit down with Riverkeeper’s Kate Hudson who is the Director of Cross Watershed Initiatives there. Her clarity on all of the issues she is charged with, and in this case the proposed anchorage project on the Hudson River, is a big help to citizens all throughout the Hudson Valley Region.
One of our big take-aways was to come to understand where we are today on the crude oil transport front. Having more anchorages means that empty barges traveling up from NYC can cut their travel time in half to park until a berth opens up in the port of Albany where shipments of crude oil arrive. There is much activity in North Dakota, and crude oil is transported on ‘bomb trains’ to Albany. Shipping companies are waiting (perhaps ‘frothing’ is a better term) to transport it back down the Hudson River to NYC so it can be sent out and processed in NJ and PA. This will become more of a problem for us in the Hudson Valley.
Last year, “With the stroke of a pen, President Barack Obama ended 40 years of U.S. crude oil export limits by signing off on a repeal passed by Congress earlier in the day….The restrictions lift immediately under a provision in the spending and tax package that the president signed into law. Congressional leaders earlier in the week reached an agreement to end the trade restrictions, established during U.S. oil shortages in the 1970s, as part of a grand bargain that includes tax breaks for renewable-energy companies and refiners….Repeal of the crude-export restrictions reverses four decades of a policy that has defined the nation’s relations with the rest of the world. Without the trade limits, the U.S. — now the world’s largest oil and gas producer — is free to export its crude, as it already does with refined products including gasoline. The U.S. Senate passed the bill with a vote of 65-33 after the House approved the measure 316-113 hours earlier.”
You might have noticed how low oil/gas prices have been lately. Or that there are fewer ‘bomb trains’ then there have been over the past handful of years. That’s because we are extracting more than we are able to sell domestically. There is a glut of oil in America which is mostly new. The lift of the 40 year restriction to exports is going to be a game changer and challenges all of the hard work that’s been done to ween us off fossil fuels. Believe us, once the market is open, what you pay is going to change.
What’s important to recognize here, is that the U.S Coast Guard is not the one proposing new anchorages on the Hudson River. Last year, citizens in the area noticed that barges had suddenly appeared, parked for long stretches of time in areas they had not been before. Complaints were made to Riverkeeper, who in turn, notified the Coast Guard. The barges, when investigated, were indeed parked illegally and were asked to move. So a month or so later, in January of 2016, “a group of commercial shipping organizations (representing Tug and Barge Operators, the HR Pilot’s Associations and American Waterways Operators) submitted a formal request to the U.S. Coast Guard…seeking to expand the number of official anchorage grounds for large commercial vessels in the Hudson River between Yonkers and Kingston from the current 2 (Yonkers and Hyde Park) to 43 berths in 10 locations, opening up 2400 acres to new anchorages in some of the most ecologically sensitive areas of the river.
To make things crystal clear on the ‘benefit’ front, our great Hudson River, and everyone living and relying on it would bear the brunt of the ongoing transport and any potential disaster. There will be no ‘benefit’ for you or for me. This is a situation where only the oil and shipping companies will stand to gain here.
With a proposal on the table, the Coast Guard must follow a process, and the first step is in giving the public the opportunity to respond. Known as “a notice of proposed rule making” (take note, they are not rule making at this point) please help them to build a record to enable them to DENY the commercial shipping organization’s request by submitting a comment no later than December 6th. It’s so important that you do so now.
Below is Kate Hudson’s helpful explanation of all of this. We’ll continue to look out and to post as this process unfolds.
By Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper Director of Cross Watershed Initiatives
There is much confusion, misinformation, and disinformation abound concerning this very consequential proposal. I would like to take a moment to get at the facts about what’s being proposed, by whom and why so we can be clear and speak with one voice about what needs to be done in order to protect our river and our river communities.
# 1: – WHAT IS BEING PROPOSED AND BY WHOM?
Several commercial shipping organizations (representing Tug and Barge Operators, the HR Pilot’s Associations and American Waterways Operators) submitted a formal request to the U.S. Coast Guard in January, 2016 seeking to expand the number of official anchorage grounds for large commercial vessels in the Hudson River between Yonkers and Kingston from the current 2 (Yonkers and Hyde Park) to 43 berths in 10 locations, opening up 2400 acres to new anchorages in some of the most ecologically sensitive areas of the river. 42 of the 43 berths are proposed to be “long term” which means that barges could anchor there for days. This is not as the vessel operators like to say as being “nothing new”. This would represent a huge increase in the anchoring of commercial vessels in the Hudson between the GW Bridge and Albany, turning our river into a parking lot for large barges and vessels while they wait for dock space to open up in Albany.
# 2 – WHY IS THIS PROPOSAL BEING MADE? WHAT THE SHIPPING INDUSTRY SAYS VS. REALITY.
Until late fall 2015, northbound tugs and barges frequently anchored off Port Ewen just south of the Rondout Creek. Riverkeeper received complaints from residents of communities on both sides of the river, which they referred to Captain Day of the Coast Guard, Sector NY. Day ultimately notified vessel operators that this was NOT an authorized, federally designated anchorage ground and that they had to cease using it. In response, the shipping organizations submitted their vastly increased anchorage request to the coast guard in January 2016.
Their clearly stated reason is exactly the point, the larger picture here: the vast increase in the transport of Bakken crude oil on the Hudson since the beginning of 2012
In its January 21, 2016, letter asking the Coast Guard to authorize additional anchorages, the Maritime Association of the Port of NY/NJ Tug and Barge Committee noted Albany’s role as an “export port … of Bakken Crude Oil and Ethanol.”
The industry emphasizes one commercial incentive in particular in its request: “Trade will increase on the Hudson River significantly over the next few years with the lifting of the ban on American Crude exports for foreign trade and federally designated anchorages are key to supporting trade.”
The reality: Since 2012 up to 25% of Bakken crude oil from fracked wells in North Dakota is coming through the Albany Port and then being moved south through the Hudson Valley to refineries in NJ and PA. In 2011, half a million gallons of crude oil was being handled in the Port of Albany. Because of permits that the State of NY gave two transloading companies operating in the Port of Albany (Global and Buckeye), up to 3 billion gallons a year can now be loaded from bomb trains to barges and brought down the Hudson. A fossil fuel commercialization of the Hudson that we have never seen before.
Permits are also being sought to allow those companies to load tar sands oil on to Hudson River barges which Riverkeeper and others have been fighting in the courts since 2014.
More oil exponentially increases the risk of spills and a spill of Bakken or tar sands oil is a spill from which the river will not be able to recover. Responders agree that a successful response to a spill in a tidal river like the Hudson would be able to recover only 15-20% of the Bakken oil spilled and only 5-10% of a sinking tar sands spill.
# 3 – DO WE NEED THE INCREASE IN CRUDE OIL SHIPPING THAT THIS PROPOSAL WILL FACILITATE? WHO WILL BENEFIT?
“Shippers now say this is about safety, but it’s really about oil as they so candidly said in their January 2016 letter to the Coast Guard:
CLAIM: Permanent, authorized anchorages are needed for safety. Vessel operators need a place to stop in the event of fog and ice – or as the Coast Guard told the New York Times, to “park and catch up on rest and then move on.”
RESPONSE: This is a problem that doesn’t need to be fixed. Commercial vessels already have emergency anchoring privileges. To our knowledge, the Coast Guard has never denied commercial vessel operators the ability to anchor when needed due to safety concerns.
CLAIM: “The three anchorages in the “Kingston Hub” are essential because the upriver section should be navigated only during daylight. Otherwise it is unsafe.”
RESPONSE: The barges anchored near Kingston weren’t waiting for daylight; they were waiting for dock space in the Port of Albany. Loaded crude oil barges routinely travel south through the Port of Albany, through this “narrow, dangerous” reach at all hours.
CLAIM: “Don’t you need gas for your car and oil to heat your home?”
RESPONSE: Refined products, like gasoline and heating oil, have been shipped from coastal refineries north up the Hudson to Albany for decades. That won’t change, and that’s not the issue. The barges that have been anchoring in the Hudson since 2012, when North Dakota crude oil production started, have not been barges transporting heating oil or gasoline. They are barges that transport crude oil and more often than not, they are anchoring because their loading terminals in Albany are at capacity. It’s disingenuous and dishonest to raise the specter of heating oil and gasoline delivery problems in this conversation.
During the peak crude oil years of 2013-14, we saw tremendous volume of crude oil traveling down the Hudson Valley: two trains a day, 3 million gallons each; a barge a day, with approximately 4 million gallons; and the tanker Aphrodite, doing a round trip from Albany to New Brunswick every eight days carrying 8 million gallons. That enormous volume was limited by what the coastal refineries could receive. But now that the United States has lifted its export ban on crude oil, industry predicts that we will see an enormous increase in volumes transported on the Hudson. Now, global market forces are the only limit.
CLAIM: “These products need to be transported by water. Maybe you’d prefer them sent up by rail or pipelines running through your backyards?”
RESPONSE: The maritime industry suggests that shipping oil by barge will prevent construction of a pipeline. The pipeline industry says that if we have a pipeline, we won’t need barges. And the rail industry says it’s the safest means of transport of all. They’re all wrong.
Having barges won’t prevent pipelines, and having pipelines won’t prevent barges, and transport by rail won’t prevent either of the others. None of these industries has made a compact with the others, saying, “If you move the oil, we’ll back out of the business.”
# 4 – IMPACTS TO THE RIVER, RIVER COMMUNITIES, CLIMATE AND OUR CHILDREN’S PLANET.
The risk of a catastrophic oil spill:
The cargo of greatest risk to the Hudson is petroleum. For decades and decades, refined petroleum products like gasoline, heating oil and diesel have traveled north to the Port of Albany. But starting in 2012, crude oil produced in North Dakota began arriving by train down the Champlain and Mohawk valleys. And the oil that does not continue by rail is being loaded onto barges and ships and carried south along the Hudson to refineries on the coast.
The risk of oil spill to the Hudson – already a serious threat due to the surge in barge and train shipments of Bakken crude oil since 2012 – will rise even further if new anchorages are granted to facilitate the movement of more oil.
And if these anchorages are authorized what else could we expect?
In other parts of the country, crude oil is being stored in vessels until prices rebound. Is that what we face here? Is that why so many anchorage locations are being requested? Or will the next request be a proportional increase in oil handling facilities in the Port of Albany to eliminate the current gridlock in the port and facilitate the movement of additional vessels?
More oil on the Hudson equals more risk of spills with all the impacts that would result: Including irreparable damage to the ecological health of the river as well as putting the drinking water of over 100,000 mid Hudson Valley residents on both sides of the river in jeopardy.
The sturgeon were here first. Several of the proposed anchorages are in areas relied upon by sturgeon for their survival. Both species of Hudson River sturgeon – Atlantic and shortnose – are on the endangered species list. Anchors and anchor chains scar and disturb the river bottom, where sturgeon spawn and feed and rest. The river bottom is disturbed by the anchor and chain that barges use. Scientists using side-scan sonar have documented anchor “scarring” of benthic (bottom) habitat used by federally endangered sturgeon at the existing Hyde Park anchorage and at the unauthorized Port Ewen anchorage that was used until the fall of 2015.
Two endangered species, shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon, live in the Hudson. The river off Hyde Park, for example, may have the highest concentration of Atlantic sturgeon on the entire Eastern seaboard at spawning time in early summer. The area off Kingston, and “Sturgeon Point” across the way in Rhinecliff – is an important area for shortnose sturgeon. And both species of sturgeon overwinter near the proposed anchorages at Tompkins Cove and Montrose. Before any new anchorages are approved, researchers must determine definitively whether the disturbance to sturgeon habitat is detrimental or not.”
Actions We Can and Must Take. Here is your opportunity to get involved.
We urge all local officials and concerned citizens to send their thoughts and concerns to the Coast Guard, so that the agency’s internal review leaves no risk unaddressed.
This stage of the process is vital. The Coast Guard is taking a hard first look at the industry’s proposal – and your comments and concerns. After that, the Coast Guard has the power to either:
- reject the industry’s proposal outright,
- modify it to address environmental or community concerns, or
- consider the industry’s proposal in full.
The anchorage proposal must get comprehensive environmental review. The Coast Guard is so far doing what we need them to do: Giving the public advance notice and soliciting input before deciding on a future ‘official’ proposal, anticipated in Spring of 2017. New anchorage grounds would clearly have a range of significant, far-reaching environmental impacts that must be looked into and understood before any decision can be made.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires a detailed review for most federal proposals as part of the decision making process. However, anchorage proposals fall into a loophole, and no such review is required for this proposal. The public should ask for a full environmental impact statement.
Speak up! Your community has a say. Many local communities have developed plans – Local Waterfront Revitalization Plans – for the future of their Hudson River waterfronts. The review of the anchorage proposal must address and be consistent with these plans. Don’t forget: Make sure your federal and state elected officials know specifics about where your community stands on the future use and development of its waterfront – whether you have an LWRP or not. Make sure your community files comments with the Coast Guard before December 6th.
Submit Your Comments by December 6th, 2016.
READ: Proposed new Hudson River anchorage grounds: Critical issues and what you can do.
READ: 6 things you should know about the proposed Hudson River anchorages.
READ: Fact-check: Industry’s false claims about Hudson River anchorages.