By Seth Daniel
The Chelsea Creek waterfront in Revere is a forgotten entity for most in the City, but it has garnered some attention lately as one of the long-time oil companies on the Creek has presented a bold new plan.
That plan involves bringing in hundreds of millions of gallons of Ethanol by train using a commuter rail line that hasn’t been used for freight for quite some time. Currently, Ethanol comes in by truck, but by all accounts this is a much different animal, with much, much more of the product coming in than previously.
There are those that are worried about public safety.
Indeed, though most Ethanol trains run safely throughout the country, there are numerous cases of them exploding violently. Many of those have been in rural areas, but one explosion happened in a populated area of Illinois, killing one person, injuring nine others and causing the evacuation of hundreds of homes.
Others are worried about the environmental impacts and corporate accountability.
Ethanol isn’t as harmful to the environment as petroleum, but it does dissolve in water quickly and causes oxygen levels to drop – killing off marine life very fast. That’s certainly a concern, among other things.
However, what is a little more interesting is perhaps what the companies are really planning on doing down there.
We might be witnessing the beginnings of a complete re-making of the oil industry on Chelsea Creek.
The current proposal is one of those stories that is particularly mysterious as it involves a lot of business secrets that aren’t public record – something known as proprietary information. All my journalistic instincts tell me there’s something very interesting going on here, but connecting those dots to draw the full picture has yet to happen.
Though many don’t know this, Global appears to have been trying to make this happen for more than a year.
In fact, there is evidence that Pan Am Southern Railroad – the company that will be hauling the Ethanol from Fort Devens to Revere – has already run “test trains” on the commuter line. Presumably, they are trying to work out the timing with the commuter rail service.
Work crews began clearing out brush on the Railroad Avenue track spur last summer, and abutters such as Atlantic Asphalt were told some time ago to move their things from the railroad right of way down there that has been overgrown with weeds for 15 years.
What is particularly interesting is that – despite all of that – even Mayor Tom Ambrosino didn’t know about the plan until three or four months ago. Councillors and other elected officials knew about it even later, as did the general public.
Why the cloak and dagger approach from an oil company, Global, which has typically been straight up with the City for decades?
What could be happening is a monumental expansion of the terminal on Lee Burbank Highway built on the future need of Ethanol – both blending it with gasoline and exporting it.
There are a number of things that seem to be coming together at just the right time for Global to perhaps make a move at becoming the top supplier on the Eastern seaboard – using Revere as its take-off point.
First, the widening of the Chelsea Street Bridge just up from Global opens up endless possibilities for export. Much, much larger ships and barges can now come all the way to Global’s sea berth. Global’s proposed plan calls for new equipment to be installed that will allow ships to fill up in a way they haven’t done before.
Additionally, it was just announced that the Army Corps of Engineers has decided to dredge the Chelsea Creek, making it even more attractive for large-scale shipping.
At the same time, there have been monumental investments in rail transport at Fort Devens (Ayer) and in western Massachusetts to Albany. While there is a wide swath of businesses that are helped by that, the driving force many say is Ethanol shipments, a regular freight business that needs to find its way to the coast.
Another happening along the Creek is that – unbeknownst to many – the ConocoPhillips Oil Terminal just over the Eastie line, which supplies Logan Airport with jet fuel, is up for sale. The Houston-based company accepted bids in April, and so far there is no update.
The terminal is but one mile from Global, and it would provide them with much more storage and another deepwater port. It also has storage for 65,000 barrels of Ethanol, and a total storage capacity of 1 million barrels. What it also has that many don’t realize is a very old rail connection that could unite Global Revere with the ConocoPhillips terminal.
Neither Global nor ConocoPhillips would comment on any aspect of that scenario.
Were it to happen, though, it would be a major move on Global’s part and would only further cement Lee Burbank Highway as the liquid fuels headquarters of New England.
The original and prevailing question is about Ethanol, and why so much of it has to come in.
With Congress talking of cutting Ethanol subsidies – which have produced the boom in Ethanol production – many would say that the problem would take care of itself; that cutting the subsidies will cut off the flow of Ethanol to Revere.
While Congress is serious about cutting these subsidies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pretty serious about increasing the amount of Ethanol in American gasoline. At this moment, they are finalizing regulations that will require a 15 percent Ethanol mixture – up from 10 percent. That will mean more Ethanol production will be needed in some way or fashion.
In the end, it all boils down to what could be an impressive business expansion.
The U.S. Congress mandates that Ethanol be included in every gallon of retail gasoline in the country, and they want to increase that mandate.
Global wants to sell gasoline, and they are probably interested in selling more and more of it.
To do so, they’re going to need a lot more Ethanol in Revere.