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Oil tankers in Albany
Tanker cars full of Bakken crude in downtown Albany

When Hurricane Sandy devastated the New York  and New Jersey coast,  politicians and media people actually pronounced the words “climate change” without immediately stressing that there is no way to attribute any one extreme event to a changed climate. Looking at the flooded Brooklyn-Tunnel in November, I thought to myself that everything had changed. But, judging by the silence around here on our own rail-and-water version of the XL Pipeline, I’m less optimistic.

Bloomberg did endorse Obama on the grounds that he believed in the reality of climate change. Chris Christie left no doubts that he thought Romney's response to Hurricane Sandy was pathetic. And Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke out:

It’s a longer conversation, but I think part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality, it is a reality that we globe…You can expect that you'll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward," are vulnerable. Climate change is a controversial subject, right? People will debate whether there is climate change … that’s a whole political debate that I don’t want to get into. I want to talk about the frequency of extreme weather situations, which is not political … There’s only so long you can say, ‘this is once in a lifetime and it’s not going to happen again.”

After avoiding any mention of climate change during the campaign, President Obama said what all rational people have known for years:

"I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we've got an obligation to future generations to do something about it….What we do know is the temperature around the globe is increasing faster than was predicted even 10 years ago. We do know that the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted even five years ago. We do know that there have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America, but also around the world…”
This would, it seems, imply that this issue trumps all others. However, the president went on to make it clear that was not the case:
"Understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody's going to go for that. I won't go for that.”
President Obama is, in fact, betting the future on a real gamble that we can do it all – wind, solar, coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear – and somehow renewables will win the race against rising CO2 in time to avoid a collapse of civilization. Pretty high stakes, and the other otherwise rational politicians of New York and New Jersey are going along with him, undismayed by the sheer amount of crude oil that has been moving past the City in recent months.

Since the summer, long trains of rail cars full of crude oil have been arriving in Albany, 150 miles north, and can be seen lined up a few blocks from the State Capitol, waiting to be offloaded into tank farms just south of the city, and from there into tankers bound for East Coast or possibly foreign refineries – something entirely new on the Hudson River.

Buckeye and Global Partners, the two companies active at the port, have maintained a very low profile  about their role in transporting the crude from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota and Montana– and of course the port and rail areas are not open for public visits.

According to an October 28 article by Brian Nearing in the Albany Times Union, neither the state Department of Environmental Conservation nor the Coast Guard have seen a need to update plans for containing any possible oil spill resulting from the increased traffic. And these kind of shipments are unprecedented in this area, according to port manager Richard Hendrick, who said,” "I am not aware that a drop of crude was ever shipped out of the port until the Bakken oil showed up this year.” The amount of crude moving through this area will be enormous, according to the Albany Times Union:

Between Houston-based Buckeye Partners and Global Partners, located in Waltham, Mass., up to 395,000 barrels of oil a day could come into Albany on rail cars, and then move 150 miles down the river on tankers and barges to the Atlantic.
That is nearly 16.6 million gallons of oil a day, nearly half the potential output of a massive field thousands of miles away that is estimated to hold more than two billion barrels of oil, or even more, making it one of the largest oil reserves in the country. Locked in shale rock formations, the oil became reachable only after new rock-fracturing drilling technology was developed in 2008.
tanker seen from Ferry Point
River traffic on the upper Hudson

I am sure that if there’s an oil spill in the beautiful Hudson Valley, there will be a loud outcry. But as long as these huge amounts of oil pass quietly along our rail lines and waters, there seems to be no grounds for concern. If anything, supportive politicians will be able to boast about their role in assuring “North American Energy Independence.” And when the next climate-induced storm surge goes all the way to Times Square, our elected leaders here in New York will once again say all the right things.

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