Ohio keeps oil hauls by rail a secret

State officials are shielding information from the public.
TNS Regional News
Jul 10, 2014

 

State officials won't release records detailing when railroads ship Bakken crude oil through Ohio.

Federal regulators have warned that oil extracted from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota might be more flammable than traditional heavy crude. Derailments and explosions of trains carrying Bakken crude spurred a federal order that requires railroads shipping at least 1 million gallons to notify states when the oil rolls between their borders.

Emergency responders know when that's happening, but Ohio officials are shielding that information from the public.

State officials cited an exemption in Ohio law meant to mitigate acts of terrorism in denying a Dispatch public-records request. However, the U.S. Department of Transportation has determined the files don't contain sensitive security details.

Other states are releasing the same records. Virginia and Washington, for example, post the files on state websites.

Media organizations in Oregon are fighting the state's decision to charge for records. Some Plains states released records to the Associated Press, but others are debating whether to provide them.

The Dispatch requested the information from the state but the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which co-directs the State Emergency Response Commission, denied the request.

The Ohio attorney general's office and the commission, a consortium of representatives from state agencies, are reviewing Ohio's stance, said Dan Tierney, spokesman for the attorney general's office.

"We did not receive any executive order from a U.S. agency saying there was a change," he said. " We learned about it through media reports. In light of those developments, we're reviewing the matter through our client."

Crude-oil shipments via rail have spiked nationwide as drillers extracting crude in North Dakota look to transport it to coastal refineries.

The 408,000 carloads of crude oil shipped on U.S. rail lines in 2013 represented a 74 percent increase over 2012, according to the American Association of Railroads. That number includes all crude oil -- not just Bakken crude.

An oil-train derailment and explosion in Quebec last year killed 47 people. In April, a train carrying 3 million gallons of Bakken crude derailed and exploded in Lynchburg, Va. At the time, no state or federal agency was tracking the crude oil moving through the state.

A week later, the federal government issued its emergency order requiring railroads to tell states where tanks carrying the oil are traveling. Violators risk a $175,000 fine.

Railroads have said the information is proprietary and, if exposed, could pose a danger.

"Our longstanding policy has been to not specifically talk about the routing of specific commodities," said Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern.

Officials at CSX, which also has rail lines in Ohio, did not respond to a request for comment.

In Virginia, records detailing CSX's shipments of Bakken crude through 20 counties were submitted on June 13 and posted on a state website. The Washington Emergency Management Division has posted similar records online.

"Obviously it's public information as far as it's been deemed here," said David Watson, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. "After the train derailment in Lynchburg, there's obviously public interest."

The federal order requires railroads to submit notices to state emergency-response commissions.

The Ohio EPA provided a letter from Assistant Attorney General Timothy Kern to emergency responders in denying The Dispatch's request.

"Ohio EPA couldn't unilaterally decide (to release the records)," spokesman Chris Abbruzzese said. "It's bigger than just us."

Records the railroads must submit to the state include estimates of trains transporting more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude each week, the identity and description of the cargo, emergency-response information and the route the cargo will travel.

Notices submitted in Virginia and Washington included the number of loaded trains and the county through which they would travel.

Railroads have taken several voluntary measures, including reducing speeds in some areas, as the federal government works on permanent standards.

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By Rick Rouan - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Comments

JACKEL

Hmmmm ! Keeping things from the taxpayers. Surprise, Surprise as Gomer would say !

nakedtruth

There are extremely dangerous commodities being transported by rail, hydrogen cyanide for one. This has been going on since the beginning of the rail industry. The only change has been investors not spending money on rail improvements and resucing crew sizes; which increase profit and dangers. Federal laws says railroads cannot deny dangerous commodities from being shipped by rail. The only recourse the public has to to encourage legislators to pass the "Safe Freight Act" that is before them currently. Look at the derailments. They are either a one man crew or rail failure from not properly maintaining the system. Railroads notoriously work crews beyond exhaustion with no days off and no life outside of work. This needs to change as well. One man crews are just too dangerous as you need to keep each other alert and protect our communities. Take time, talk to a railroader like I have. If your realy concerned about the safety of our communities and children, take action and call your legislative rep.

bjab1996

In the small town that I live in we have had train derailments and the only damage done was to the box and coal cars that use to travel through here. Some grass was torn up and trees plowed over. Even though the rails run near homes and business. But more recently late at night I hear trains come through that are heavier sounding and are traveling at a faster rate of speed. What is passing through scares me to death and may someday do just that but as it is with almost everything these days its all about the $ the dollar. To heck with everything but that green stuff is how our world is now. Just how I see it!

swiss cheese kat's picture
swiss cheese kat

Pipelines are safer. 0-bama would rather it be shipped in a more dangerous and less efficacious manner due to his ideology. Yayyy.

rogerthat

The EPA serves to protect railroads and oil companies from us. Even just a small amount of profit is more important than safety or the environment. They will never make this info public.

Contango

Re: "The EPA serves to protect railroads and oil companies from us."

So the EPA is in cahoots with BIG business? BS.

Good Dem Warren Buffett enjoys the business.

rogerthat

Duh, EPA is a government agency. It exists to serve big business. For example, why does the EPA keep tightening specs for drinking water every few years? Simply to make municipalities purchase new filtration equipment. Who sells filtration equipment? If the EPA says a pipeline, power plant, etc. is safe then we can't stop them from operating or sue them when they fail. Of course, big business complains about the EPA so we suspect nothing. The "liberal" media does its job and makes us think the EPA protects us.

IndependentThinker

All this would be unnecessary if Obama would approve the pipelines. Write your congressperson!

nakedtruth

The pipeline is a joke. Just another way for big oil to max profits. Once it's in there will be no jobs in our region. Pipelines are not saffer. Look into some of the pipeline tragedies. Just two months ago in southern richland county, a pipeline leaked for an unknown amount of time in a wildlife area. At the time they estimated of 10,000 gallons had spilled. Quickly you heard nothing more. When they open up, exspecially in these rural areas, it can leak for days, weeks or months. How much environmental damage can that do. At least on the rail it's being monitored constantly. When a tank does rupture it can only spill it's contents, unlike a pipeline. Like I said earlier, there are far worse things being carried on the rail. At least the railroad has produced several high paying jobs all across the region for these trains. These jobs are are not temporary like the pipeline.