June 19, 2014 in City

Feds: Oil train data must be released

Railroads’ concerns focused on security
Matthew Brown Associated Press
 
Requests granted

Some states have agreed to requests from BNSF Railway, CSX and Union Pacific to keep the information confidential after the railroads cited security concerns. Those include California, New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota and Colorado.

BILLINGS – U.S. transportation officials said Wednesday that details about volatile oil train shipments are not sensitive security information, after railroads have sought to keep the material from the public following a string of fiery accidents.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered railroads to give state officials specifics on oil train routes and volumes so emergency responders can better prepare for accidents.

Railroads have persuaded some states to sign agreements restricting the information’s release for business and security reasons.

But the Federal Railroad Administration has determined the information is not sensitive information that must be withheld from the public to protect security, said Kevin Thompson, the agency’s associate administrator.

Thompson added that railroads could have appropriate claims that the information should be kept confidential for business reasons, but states and railroads would have to work that out.

Montana officials said they intend to publicly release the oil train information next week.

The move is mandated under the state’s open records law and helps protect public safety by raising community awareness, said Andrew Huff, chief legal counsel for Gov. Steve Bullock.

“If there’s not some federal pre-emption or specific regulation or statute that prevents release of this information, then under our records laws we have to release it,” Huff said.

Washington state officials also have said the oil train details should be made public under state law. Last week, they gave railroads 10 days to seek a court injunction, after which the information could be released.

An oil train derailment and explosion in Quebec in July killed 47 people. Subsequent derailments and fires in Alabama, North Dakota, Virginia and New Brunswick have drawn criticism from lawmakers in Congress that transportation officials have not done enough to safeguard against further explosions.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last month ordered railroads to provide the details on routing and oil train volumes to states. The order covers trains hauling a million gallons of oil or more from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada.

The Bakken’s light, sweet crude is more volatile than many other types of oil, and it has been involved in most of the major accidents as the crude-by-rail industry rapidly expanded during the past several years.

Some states have agreed to requests from BNSF Railway, CSX and Union Pacific to keep the information confidential after the railroads cited security concerns. Those include California, New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota and Colorado.

BNSF – the main carrier of crude oil in many western states – was notified late Tuesday of Montana’s intentions. A representative of the Texas-based company had said in a June 13 letter that BNSF would consider legal action if Montana moved to release the details on oil shipments.

“We must be cognizant that there is a real potential for the criminal misuse of this data in a way that could cause harm to your community or other communities along the rail route,” wrote Patrick Brady, BNSF’s director of hazardous materials, in a letter to a senior official at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Company spokesman Matt Jones said Wednesday that BNSF has no plans to ask a court to intervene at this time.

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