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Volatile oil cause for concern

Friday, January 31, 2014
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For anyone who drives next to the railroad tracks separating the north- and southbound lanes of I-787 in Albany, it’s hard not to notice the long string of black oil tanker cars that line up there daily, waiting to get into the Port of Albany. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has apparently noticed, too, and is leaning on his people to make sure the state is prepared in case calamity strikes, and leaning on the feds to make sure one doesn’t. Good ideas both.

These tankers aren’t carrying just any crude — not that a spill of any oil wouldn’t be problematic — but a highly flammable variety originating in the upper Midwest. It has been implicated in some major disasters involving derailments in North Dakota and Quebec, so Cuomo is right to want to take precautions.

Disaster preparedness is a good place to start, as a leak into the Hudson (which is being used to transport much of the oil after it’s unloaded in the Port of Albany) would be disastrous. But an explosion, especially in a populated area like downtown Albany, would be just as bad.

The real threat appears to be with the rupture-proneness of the older rail cars being used to transport this volatile stuff. Newer, safer designs exist and will be required beginning next year. Cuomo, along with his counterpart in North Dakota, is urging the feds to do sooner, which seems advisable.

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