June 6, 2014 in Nation/World

States balk at oil train confidentiality request

Matthew Brown Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Firefighters and other first responders are familiarized with tank cars on the CSX Safety Train in the Port of Albany on Thursday in Albany, N.Y. The train is equipped with four oil tankers and two classroom cars and is making a whistle stop in Albany as part of a multi-state tour providing enhanced safety training in response to increased shipments of North Dakota crude oil.
(Full-size photo)

U.S. railroads forced to turn over details of their volatile crude oil shipments are asking states to sign agreements not to disclose the information. But some states are refusing, saying Thursday that the information shouldn’t be kept from the public.

Federal officials last month ordered railroads to make the disclosures after a string of fiery tank-car accidents in North Dakota, Alabama, Virginia and Quebec, where 47 people died when a runaway oil train exploded in the town of Lac-Megantic.

The disclosures due Saturday at midnight include route details, volumes of oil carried and emergency-response information for trains hauling 1 million gallons or more of crude. That’s the equivalent of 35 tank cars.

BNSF, Union Pacific and CSX are seeking agreements that the information won’t be publicly shared. They said the information is security sensitive and releasing it could put them at a competitive disadvantage.

State emergency officials said they need to know about the trains, and proposed agreements would violate open-records laws.

Wisconsin, Montana, Illinois, North Dakota, Idaho and Washington have declined so far to sign the agreements, according to state emergency officials. Other states have said they intend to meet the railroads’ requests.

In Colorado, South Dakota, Iowa and Oregon, the confidentiality proposals are under review by attorneys and no decision has been made, officials said. Officials in Virginia said they intend to make the information public.

U.S. crude oil shipments topped 110,000 carloads in the first quarter of 2014. That’s an estimated 3.2 billion gallons of crude and the highest volume ever moved by rail, the Association of American Railroads said Thursday. It’s spurred by booming production in the Northern Plains.

The May 7 federal order covered oil shipments by rail from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada. The Bakken produces a light, sweet crude that is highly volatile and contains more flammable gases than heavier oils such as from the tar sands region of Canada.

Federal officials have said sharing information on Bakken shipments is crucial for local firefighters and other emergency responders.

Railroads that fail to comply face penalties of $175,000 a day and a prohibition against moving Bakken oil. But officials indicated there will be flexibility in how the rules are enforced.

CSX spokesman Gary Sease said the company is providing the information now and asking that the confidentiality agreements be returned within 30 days.

Union Pacific also was providing the information to at least some states. A BNSF spokeswoman did not immediately answer whether the railroad planned to hold back the information after Saturday’s deadline.

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