Controversial shelved plans to allow crude oil barges to anchor in the Hudson River were kept in limbo in a U.S. Coast Guard study issued Tuesday.
A proposal that could allow barges to anchor south of Kingston was launched last summer amid a wave of opposition from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, local leaders and environmental groups.
It calls for allowing up to 43 barges — each carrying 50,000 barrels of oil or more — to tie off at anchorages on about 70 miles in the river as far south as Yonkers. Opposition to the plan was intense, with the Coast Guard last year receiving more than 10,000 public comments, mostly negative.
“The Coast Guard has not yet made any decisions regarding establishing anchorages or using other waterways management tools to manage navigation risk on the Hudson River,” according to its 77-page study, called a Ports and Waterway Safety Assessment Report.
“We acknowledged that the existing anchorage regulations are unclear, and we are considering how those regulations could be made more readily understood. We have no outcome timelines at this time,” the report states.
Hayley Carlock, director of environmental advocacy for Scenic Hudson, a river advocacy group that opposed the anchorages plan said the report “does not take us closer to having the anchorages, but the door is still open, possibly in the future.”
Each barge could hold enough oil to fill six Olympic-sized swimming pools. Opponents warned that a spill would be difficult to clean and could damage there rivers ecology.
A Coast Guard press release on the study did not mention the oil barge issue specifically.
In that statement, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Steven Poulin, said the agency would use the report to “discuss how to best reduce risk, and improve the safety and security of the Hudson River.”
Ed Kelly, executive director of the Maritime Association of the Ports of New York and New Jersey, said the report “kicks the can down the road,” and that his group would continue to advocate for the anchorage plant. “It is still out there.”
He said the likelihood that crude oil barges would dominate the anchorage was unlikely, since the industry now has new pipelines to move oil.
Industry groups have said more anchorages are needed to deal with increased commercial trade on the Hudson, fueled in part by a potential surge in crude oil shipments resulting from the lifting of the U.S. export ban in late 2015.
During 2017, a slump in global oil prices stemmed the flow of crude oil from the Port of Albany, but should prices again rise, shipments through Albany could resume. Environmental opponents have questioned whether long-term storage aspects of the plan would allow owners of oil barges to park them temporarily to take advantage of rising oil prices, a situation that Kelly said would be “economic suicide” for shippers.
The anchorage plan was requested by the Maritime Association of the Port of New York/New Jersey, the American Waterways Operators and the Hudson River Pilots Association.
The Coast Guard report raised several issues with crude shipments on the river, including:
• Barge shipments of crude oil from the Port of Albany south down the river “have decreased due to crude oil prices. Some argue the decrease in shipments is due to increased rail capacity.”
• The energy sector is moving more liquified natural gas and less crude oil, but “recent trends have been increasing.”
• There are “limited locations” along the river to “deploy large response equipment.”
• After oil spills in water, the “general rule of thumb” is that between 10 percent and 20 percent of the spilled oil can be recovered from the water.
• Local first responders along the Hudson “are not capable of handling a medium or major spill.”
Last fall, Gov. Cuomo signed a law that gives the state Department of Environmental Conservation the power to ban tanker storage from certain areas on the Hudson.
DEC could create anti-tanker zones based on factors including navigational hazards, environmental conditions, presence of aquatic and wildlife habitats, proximity to waterfront communities, and federally or state identified environmental remediation sites, according to the law.