Eric Anderson | The Albany Times Union
ALBANY — Exporting crude oil from the United States is “bad news” for U.S. consumers, a community activist in Albany warned Wednesday.
Moves by the U.S. Commerce Department to allow two companies to ship what’s called processed condensate from south Texas’ Eagle Ford shale formation puts the U.S. on “a slippery slope in the wrong direction,” said Sandy Steubing of PAUSE — People of Albany United for Safe Energy.
“Gasoline prices have been amazingly stable,” she said Wednesday, despite Middle East troubles that in the past would have quickly pushed prices higher. “But if they were to ship overseas, the oil companies will gouge the public and our prices will go up.”
A gallon of regular unleaded in the Capital Region costs $3.81, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge report. That’s up two pennies from a month ago, although it is nearly 20 cents more than last year.
Maria D’Amelia of Stewart’s Shops said it’s not clear what the implications of exporting domestic crude might be for gasoline prices.
“We’re not really sure what to expect at this point,” she said. Prices “really have been pretty steady.”
The domestic fracking of natural gas, which also is difficult to export, has driven prices to consumers lower over the past three years, reducing heating bills and helping U.S. manufacturers remain competitive.
PAUSE also worries that the additional demand from overseas could result in more trains carrying dangerous crude. Bakken crude from North Dakota, which flows through the Port of Albany, has turned out to be more flammable than thought. Several derailments over the past year have resulted in explosions, with the worst last July in Quebec, when a runaway train exploded in the center of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.
So far, Bakken crude isn’t included in the Commerce Department rulings. But energy companies are expected to continue to push for an easing of the restrictions blocking crude exports, eventually resulting in more of the tank trains passing through Albany.
Richard Hendrick, general manager at the Port of Albany, said that’s not likely to happen in the short term.
“I think it would be tough to get more crude in here unless there was improved rail access,” he said Wednesday. Global Partners, he said, has just one dock from which to load barges, while the other major shipper, Buckeye Partners, canceled plans to bring a second tanker into Albany to move crude to a Canadian refinery because it couldn’t get enough crude by rail into the port.
Much of what leaves the Port of Albany as crude returns as refined products — gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel, according to Hendrick. Tank farm operators at the Port of Albany are a major distribution point for refined products throughout the Northeast.