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USA: Activists protest Russian oil tankers as they idle at New York-area ports

Saturday 26 March 2022, by siawi3


Activists protest Russian oil tankers as they idle at New York-area ports

by Jake Offenhartz

Published March 21, 2022

Photo: Aerial view of an oil tanker arriving at port assisted by a tug boat in New York Harbor. Sky Cinema/Shutterstock

Environmental activists are protesting oil tankers carrying Russian fossil fuels into the New York area as energy companies take advantage of a grace period before an official ban on oil and gas from the country goes into effect.

Members from Greenpeace boarded two small boats Sunday to confront the Minerva Virga, a massive tanker carrying crude oil from Russia, as it anchored off the coast of Rockaway. The vessel is among dozens of oil and gas tankers that have discharged Russian-linked fuel in the United States in recent weeks, according to a tracker maintained by Greenpeace.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that their presence does not violate President Biden’s March 8 ban on Russian energy – which gave companies until April 22 to wind down deliveries. But the tankers have earned the scrutiny of anti-fossil fuel activists, and could provide a headache for oil companies eager to avoid association with Moscow’s assault on Ukraine.

“We see the cycle of fossil fuel dependency and what it means for human rights abuses and ecological collapse,” said John Noel, a senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace. “This is happening under our nose.”

The protests followed a string of U.S. sanctions against Russia, including a ban on fossil fuels that Biden said would “deal another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine.” But officials in Ukraine have complained that oil tankers, some of them owned by the United States, have continued to transport millions of gallons of oil out of Russia.

Since Biden’s announcement, at least two tankers carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels of gasoline have discharged their product at New Jersey ports owned by Kinder Morgan, a Houston-based pipeline operator, according to shipping data confirmed by multiple industry experts.

Inquiries to Kinder Morgan were not returned.

A third vessel, called Confidence, was anchored near the New York harbor with a cargo of gas oil chartered by Phillips 66, records showed. Eunice Bridges, a spokesperson for Phillips 66, said the company was “working to ensure security of supply for both our refineries and our customers, all the while abiding by all applicable sanctions.”

It wasn’t immediately clear where the Minerva Virga was expected to port. Attempts to reach the ship’s operator were not successful.

In recent weeks, tankers carrying Russian oil have encountered stiff resistance by dockworkers, who have refused to offload cargo in the United Kingdom, Canada, and along much of the West Coast of the U.S.

It was unclear if similar efforts were planned for future discharges in the New York and New Jersey ports. Jim McNamara, a spokesperson for the International Longshoremen’s Association, said the union had not officially endorsed any boycott of Russian cargo.

The sanctions have also created possible loopholes for exporters.

Much of the crude oil that comes to the United States from Kazakhstan passes through a pipeline that connects to a Russian hub, where it is blended with a small amount of Russian oil, according to Matt Smith, an oil analyst with the data and analytics firm Kpler.

While some buyers have reportedly avoided products from the pipeline, others, such as Chevron, have argued that oil originating in Kazakhstan does not violate the U.S. ban.

With more than a month until the official ban takes effect, Smith said that many oil companies were left with the choice to either “self-sanction” or risk public backlash.

“People are watching this and are looking to call out these companies that are sending stuff into the U.S. still,” Smith said. “Some companies are being deterred by the uncertainty surrounding sanctions, whereas other companies are willing to roll the dice and continue to take the flows.”

Jake Offenhartz is a general assignment reporter. In his five years at Gothamist and WNYC, he’s covered policing, transportation, local politics, climate change and all manner of New York City oddities. He lives in Manhattan.