Transparency about Hazardous Oil Shipments Possible After All

After the Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order on May 7 that Bakken information about oil shipments be shared with appropriate state agencies, question arose about whether that information could be shared with the public.

"The nation’s largest haulers of crude oil by rail on (June 24) appeared to abandon their insistence that information about such shipments could not be shared publicly for security reasons," writes Curtis Tate of the McClatchy Washington Bureau. Heretofore they had thought that information only needed to be shared with the appropriate state officials, as indicated below.

After the Department of Transportation issued an Emergency Order on May 7 (also posted here) "requiring all railroads operating trains containing large amounts of Bakken crude oil to notify State Emergency Response Commissions about the operation of these trains through their states," not only did the railroads not make the routing information available to the press and general public, states also kept the information secret. The order would take effect in 30 days.

As Tate and his Sacramento Bee colleague, Tony Bizjak wrote in an earlier article about crude-by-rail going to Sacramento, California, state officials said "they will follow federal advice to divulge information only to local firefighters and others who must respond if there is a hazardous spill or fire."

Tate writes that "railroads (had) insisted that states limit public release of the information, calling it security sensitive, and asked them to sign nondisclosure agreements. But neither the Transportation Department nor the railroads could identify a specific legal justification for keeping the information secret."

It appears that the DOT clarification may have been resulted in part from McClatchy and other news organizations requesting information from Washington state in early June under open records laws.

However, that same openness didn't extend to New York, where "officials are reviewing a request by CSX to not publicly disclose movements of its freight trains carrying crude oil across the state," writes Brian Tumulty for the Poughkeepsie Journal.

The routing information is being shared with “appropriate state public safety officials,” according to the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

Accompanying DOT's May 7 Emergency Order was a Safety Advisory from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The two transportation agencies strongly urged "those shipping or offering Bakken crude oil to use tank car designs with the highest level of integrity available in their fleets," states the order.

In addition, PHMSA and FRA advise offerors and carriers to the extent possible to avoid the use of older legacy DOT Specification 111 or CTC 111 called [they are called CTC-111A in Canada] tank cars for the shipment of Bakken crude oil.

Full Story: Railroads give up attempts to keep crude oil shipment data secret

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