Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 24, 2015

Contacts:  Mollie Matteson, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 318-1487,
Glen Besa, Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, (804) 387-6001,

Lawsuit Launched Over Feds' Failure to Examine Yorktown Oil Train Terminal's
Threat to Rare Sturgeon, Sea Turtles

YORKTOWN, Va.— Conservation groups filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today for failing to assess impacts to endangered species before issuing a permit for an oil train terminal at the mouth of the York River. The 2013 permit did not take into account the threat the facility and its operations pose to endangered Atlantic sturgeon, loggerhead sea turtles and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles as required by the Endangered Species Act, according to the groups.

Atlantic sturgeon
Atlantic sturgeon photo by Albert Herring, Virginia State Parks. This photo is available for media use.

“The Yorktown terminal poses a serious threat to endangered species like Atlantic sturgeon and sea turtles as well as the rivers and coastline they depend on, and the communities of the lower Chesapeake Bay,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The American public has had to find out the hard way, through dramatic derailments, spills and fires, that oil trains are a real danger.”

The Corps issued the permit in January 2013 to Plains Marketing, a pipeline and oil shipping company, to allow the former Western refinery at Yorktown to be converted to a storage site and transportation hub for crude oil. The repurposed terminal sits at the end of a CSX rail line spur, the same line where two fiery oil train derailments have occurred: one in April 2014, at Lynchburg, Va., and the other in March 2015 at Mount Carbon, W.Va. Both trains were bound for Yorktown carrying crude from an oil formation centered in North Dakota known as the “Bakken shale.” In the past three years there have been 11 oil train accidents in North America involving multiple cars, including the catastrophic derailment of an oil train in Quebec in July 2013. That accident killed 47 people and burned down much of the small town of Lac-Mégantic.

“Every day those trains run, the James River, York River, and Chesapeake Bay are at risk of yet another serious oil transport accident like the one in Lynchburg that set the James River on fire,” said Glen Besa, director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “It’s time to make a course correction before even more damage is done to our communities and our environment.”

At Yorktown crude oil is offloaded from trains onto vessels bound for East Coast refineries, putting Atlantic sturgeon and sea turtles at increased risk of ship strikes and oil spills in the Chesapeake Bay and along the Delmarva Peninsula coast.

An oil spill in the bay or along the coast could be especially devastating and long-lasting for fish, turtles and other aquatic life, as demonstrated by scientific findings since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. For example, the number of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles has dropped precipitously in the Gulf of Mexico in the past few years, and biologists have found indications that oil spilled into water interferes with the proper development of healthy young fish. Biologists confirmed in 2013 that Atlantic sturgeon spawn in the York River and that the population in the York is distinct genetically. The Chesapeake Bay provides a feeding ground for sea turtles in summer months.

Today’s letter gives the Corps 60 days’ notice to remedy the violations in the permit issued to Plains Marketing. The groups sending the notice letter are the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Sierra Club is the nation's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. The Virginia Chapter represents over 20,000 members and supporters working to build healthy, livable communities, and to conserve and restore our natural environment.

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