New York Law Could Restrict Oil Barges on Hudson River

Published December 18, 2017

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation that could limit or even bar oil tankers traversing the Hudson River from storing petroleum at anchorages along the river.

The new law represents a specific rejection of a proposal put forward by the Maritime Association of the Port of New York/New Jersey, the American Waterways Operators, and the Hudson River Pilots’ Association. Under the plan, up to 43 barges would have been allowed to anchor along a 70-mile stretch of the Hudson south of Albany, between Kingston and Yonkers. Each barge could contain enough oil to fill six Olympic-sized swimming pools. The groups argued more anchorages are needed to accommodate growing commercial traffic on the Hudson. With the lifting of the ban on U.S. oil exports in 2015, they say, foreign demand for American petroleum could increase dramatically in the years to come.

The proposal, under review by the U.S. Coast Guard earlier in 2017, was shelved when powerful political forces in the state raised objections to it. Environmental groups, led by Scenic Hudson and Food & Water Watch, teamed up with allies in the General Assembly to support the newly enacted law which effectively blocks the shipping and storage plan.

Power to Ban Tanker Storage

The new law grants the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) the authority to ban tanker storage from state waterways such as the Hudson River after considering potential environmental and waterfront impacts of transporting oil. The law also gives DEC the authority to establish tanker- and barge-free zones along the river, based on factors such as navigational hazards, local environmental conditions, presence of aquatic and wildlife habitats, and proximity to waterfront communities and state and federal environmental remediation sites.

The law was supported by a broad coalition of environmental groups and elected officials from counties and towns along the Hudson who had objected to the plan developed by the various maritime groups to expand oil shipping and storage along the river.

“We are taking concrete steps to preserve the beauty of this natural resource as well as protect the New Yorkers who live along it,” Cuomo said in a statement after signing the bill on October 21.

In a related development, the Coast Guard, in what it called a Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment, held a series of public meetings in Albany on November 15 through 17 to consider Hudson River navigational and safety issues, including the need for new anchorage sites and the potential impact of increased oil barge traffic and storage.

The recent rise in global oil prices has focused renewed attention on the Hudson. For years, freight trains have brought oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota to the Port of Albany, where it is put on tankers and sent south down the Hudson River. If the price of oil continues its modest rise, rail shipments from North Dakota’s fracking fields could increase, creating more demand for tankers serving Albany’s port.

Governor’s ‘Anti-Energy Measures’

While global demand for American petroleum products continues to rise, Cuomo’s public, continuing opposition to fossil fuels could limit New York’s participation in the nation’s oil and gas boom. Cuomo orchestrated a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing on fracking in 2015. The move prevents New York’s economically depressed Southern Tier, the northernmost extension of the hydrocarbon-rich Marcellus Shale, from benefitting from the natural gas boom that areas of Pennsylvania and West Virginia are experiencing. Cuomo also blocked the construction of two proposed natural gas pipelines through New York: the Constitution Pipeline in 2016 and the Northern Access Pipeline in 2017.

Jordan McGillis, a policy analyst with the Institute for Energy Research, says the new tanker rule is just the latest in a series of anti-energy measures Cuomo has supported.

“New York’s new tanker law is just the latest in a litany of anti-energy measures enacted under the governorship of Andrew Cuomo,” said McGillis. “When combined with the fact Cuomo has prevented the building of pipelines—the safest means we have to transport oil and natural gas—this tanker measure seems all the more nonsensical.

“Cuomo’s hostility to oil and natural gas hampers business and dims the economic prospects of his state, often—as in the case of the Clean Energy Standard—for little or no environmental benefit,” McGillis said.

Forgetting the Poor

Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), says laws restricting the development, transport, and use of fossil fuels have an adverse effect on the poor and are unsustainable.

“While attending the recent UN-sponsored COP 23 conference in Bonn, Germany, I was amused by all the unsupported claims that wind and solar energy were going to lead to a more sustainable future,” Rucker said. “Sustainable for whom? Certainly not the people in poor countries who would welcome U.S. oil, natural gas, and coal to give them the affordable and reliable energy they desperately need. But their needs and the jobs for New Yorkers exporting our energy resources would deliver are of no interest to Gov. Cuomo or radical environmentalists.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.