As the environmental damage from a crude oil spill off the California coast mounts, New York State regulators are responding to “the risks posed by the high volume of crude oil being transported through New York.”

Crude oil spill response capabilities will be enhanced across New York, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation announced yesterday.

The fear is that a spill could occur along the state’s rail or river transportation corridors, including the Hudson.

Rail shipments of oil in the U.S. have expanded to almost 374 million barrels last year from 20 million barrels in 2010. 2014 saw the greatest number of rail-oil spills since the federal government began tracking such incidents in 1975, reported NBC News.

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Clean-up in Alabama after a train carrying 2.7 million gallons of North Dakota Bakken crude oil exploded in November, 2013, spilling into wetlands just outside the town of Aliceville. Photo credit: John Wathen, EcoWatch

One only needs to stand along the banks of the mid-Hudson and watch the steady flow of oil trains on its western bank to get a sense of the volume now entering New York.

Drilling in the Marcellus and Bakken shales has relied heavily upon oil trains to ship fuel east as pipeline capacity is “insufficient to manage the flow,” reports Capital New York. “Pipeline expansion, though, tends to face opposition from environmentalists and local community groups.”

Preparations for a catastrophic spill have been ongoing, said New York State officials. No other state in the nation “has been as aggressive as New York in pursuing action that will help to ensure the public and the environment are protected from accidents related to the transport of crude oil,” claimed the DEC.

Protecting those living along NY’s “Crude by Rail” Corridor

The DEC says it worked with emergency officials in Clinton County last year to conduct a pilot project examining how to improve emergency preparedness in that county’s crude-by-rail corridor, and how best to protect “sensitive human populations, critical infrastructure and vulnerable environmental areas.”

Clinton County is in the northeast corner of the state, and borders Lake Champlain.

DEC is now working with state and local response agencies in 21 other counties to complete similar reviews of sensitive areas along local crude-rail transportation corridors.

The state will identify locations where “Geographic Response Plans” will be created to improve spill preparedness and response. This includes deployment of specialized spill response equipment, e.g., oil absorbent booms, pumps, etc.

Plans for all 21 counties will be completed by April 2016, said the DEC.

The DEC says it will train local responders and manage specialized equipment with the help of contractors. And it will collaborate with other local, state and federal entities in its preparations, including the State Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Raising more funds for spill prevention and clean-up

This year’s state budget raised New York’s Oil Spill Fund cap from $25 million to $40 million. It also provided up to $2.1 million annually to plan and prepare for potential crude oil incidents.

Environmental groups have pushed for the cap to be raised to $100 million, saying that the current level is not only “inadequate,” but less than half of what it would have been if the fund had simply kept pace with inflation.

The state budget also funds eight new DEC staff and six additional employees at the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control dedicated to oil spill planning, training and response.

And the budget increased the surcharge for oil trans-shipped through the state from 1.5 cents per barrel to 13.75 cents. Fees on oil consumed in New York were not increased, however.

Calling for a ban on crude oil “bomb trains”

Watchdog group Hudson Riverkeeper is calling for a moratorium on crude oil transport through New York State, and the ban of a type of rail car that they say is used to transport “much” of the oil that moves across the country.

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Crude oil moving by rail along the Hudson. Photo credit: Scenic Hudson

Riverkeeper is demanding that U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx ban DOT-111 cars, sometimes called “bomb cars” because of safety concerns, with an emergency order.

The group is also asking that the federal government “immediately open a public process for developing new rules and regulations governing oil transportation.”