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Albany County Executive Proposes New County Legislation on Crude Oil Spill Reporting

Could fracking in North Dakota's Bakken shale formation have a direct impact on New York State? Yes, but the impact isn't limited to prices at the gas pump or home energy heating bills. Instead, the fracking operations are leading to a surge in freight trains hauling crude oil along the state's rail lines to a terminal at the port of Albany, New York. Shale formations such as the Bakken produce crude oil along with natural gas during fracking operations, and some claim that Bakken crude may "more dangerous to ship by rail than crude from other areas." 

Many along the country's rail lines grew wary of the increased rail transportation of crude oil following 2013's disaster in Lac-Megantic, Canada, when a freight train carrying crude oil from the Bakken formation derailed and exploded, killing dozens. When a minor derailment at the port of Albany terminal in the summer of 2014 led to the spill of 100 gallons of oil, local officials were especially sensitive. In response, County Executive Daniel P. McCoy has proposed county legislation that would require railroad or storage facility operators immediately notify the county of certain spills of crude oil, and impose civil and criminal fines for the failure to do so.

The proposed county legislation would impose criminal penalties of $1,000 and/or up to a year in jail for each violation, as well as civil penalties of $250,000 per violation. In addition, Albany County's Expert Advisory Committee on Crude Oil Safety has recommendedimplementing air and drinking water monitoring near the rail line, as well as exploring the construction of a wall between the terminal and the adjacent homes.

If enacted by the county legislature, Albany County's spill notification law could be one of the first of its kind in the state, and it might serve as a model for other counties along the state's transportation corridors.

New York State and the federal government already have their own petroleum and chemical spill reporting laws in place. The July 2014 spill in Albany was reported to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is the main state agency with jurisdiction over petroleum spills. Typically, a spill of petroleum from any source must be reported to DEC within two hours of the discharge, but current state law does not require any notification to county authorities. The DEC's Technical Field Guidance on Spill Reporting an Initial Notification Requirements contains a helpful summary of the relevant New York State and federal laws and regulations governing petroleum spills.

For more information on petroleum spill reporting laws in New York State, contact one of the environmental attorneys at Periconi, LLC.

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