5 States Refuse to Reveal Details of Oil-Train Routes and Volumes; Montana Disagrees

Thursday, June 26, 2014
Derailment and explosion of tank cars carrying crude oil in Quebec, 2013 (photo: Paul Chiasson, Canadian Press/AP)

In the wake of recent deadly accidents involving trains carrying crude oil, U.S. regulators ordered railway companies to share information about shipments with state officials. But some states have balked at disclosing this data to the public.


In May, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx ordered railroads to provide states with details on train shipment routes and their oil volumes following multiple derailments in parts of the U.S. and Canada. The order applies to trains loaded with a million gallons or more of oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, Montana, and parts of Canada. The type of oil extracted from Bakken is more volatile than most crude.


But railroads fought the demand, claiming the information should remain classified for business and security reasons. This prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue another ruling, saying oil-train shipment information was not sensitive enough to keep secret at the expense of keeping the public in the dark.


Officials at the Federal Railroad Administration, though, threw a bone to railroads, telling them they could work with state leaders to restrict disclosures. As a result, California, New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota, and Colorado are not releasing shipment details to the public, as requested by BNSF Railway, CSX, and Union Pacific.


The companies also pressured Montana to restrict the information, but officials there balked at the idea, citing the state’s open records law. “Part of the whole reason the federal government ordered that this information be given to states is to protect the communities through which these trains roll,” Andrew Huff, chief legal counsel for Gov. Steve Bullock, told The Associated Press. “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.”


Washington state said it will also release the information, but will give the railroads time to challenge its decision. Officials in New York, Wisconsin and North Dakota are evaluating whether the information must be released under their states’ open records laws.


The boom in shale oil production in the Upper Midwest and elsewhere has caused the volume of oil shipped by rail to hit record levels this year.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Details of Oil Shipments by Rail Are Not Security Sensitive and Should Be Released: DOT (Homeland Security News Wire)

Feds: Oil Train Details Not Security Sensitive (by Matthew Brown, Muscatine Journal)

This Is Where Deadly Crude Oil Trains May Be Rolling Through California (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Outdated Freight Train Cars Blamed for Explosions…with more to Come (by Noel Brinkerhoff AllGov)


Ron Schalow 9 years ago
North Dakota & Country Prepare for Casualties...Opt Not to Bother Bakken Producers With Silly Request North Dakota Bakken producers need to be forced to bring the amount of explosive gases in the crude down to the lowest possible level before shipping it by rail; and the State needs to check the volatility of the oil in each Tanker car before the train wheels turn a full revolution, to ensure it's been done properly. Send the bill to the North Dakota Petroleum Council, and let them divvy up the cost to their members. It seems that our politicians, and State officials, are more than willing to put all of the onus on the railroads, the out-dated tankers (new "safer" Model CPC-1232's cracked open in Lynchburg going 24 mph), and our first responders, without even considering the contents of the tanker cars that keep exploding. Heaven forbid anyone look cross-eyed at the oil industry, and expect them to lift a finger to help limit the death and destruction caused by the next Bakken oil train derailment. Are we seriously willing to accept casualties, just so big oil isn't inconvenienced in any way? So far, yes. "The exercise dealt with the derailment and explosion of crude oil train cars in Bismarck and in Fargo, with more than 60 fatalities, said Red Cross Regional Disaster Officer Tom Tezel." - See more at: http://www.prairiebizmag.com/event/article/id/19629/#sthash.qSU5OimV.dpuf The Reid Vapor Pressure of Bakken Crude Oil <6.0 - What it could be, if Bakken producers would do what's necessary. 7.83 - According to North Dakota Petroleum Council industry Report 9.00 - Gasoline 8.56 to 9.7 - Disclosed by Capline Pipeline (Marathon Petroleum) 9.33 - Canadian analysis after Lac-Megantic tragedy >12.0 - Tesoro Corp., a U.S. West Coast refiner, said it has regularly received oil from North Dakota with readings up to 12 (WSJ) 15.4 - The refining group, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), detected Reid vapor pressure levels as high as 15.4 pounds per square inch (absolute) in some samples. (WSJ) Huh? - What North Dakota regulators say it is. Quantum intends to strip Bakken crude down to a Reid vapor pressure of 6 psi or lower and sell the separated gas liquids, said Russell Smith; Quantum Energy Inc. "All we're saying is, in making the rule, please consider what's going in the car in addition to the car itself." (WSJ) "Quantum is fortunate to have a leader of Mr. Kacic's caliber join our team. Under his leadership, Quantum plans to explore the capturing of refinery generated CO2 to use it for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) throughout the Bakken as well as the stripping of NGLs to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude for safety reasons prior to loading it for transport," said Stan Wilson, Quantum chairman. (WSJ) ### "When you bring the vapor pressure down you must remove the NGL’s from the crude. When you do this you reduce the crude volume by about 30%, this means less sales income and more gas going to flare due to the lack of infrastructure in the area. More pollution, less revenue, less taxes. No one local wins with this solution." --Myron Goforth, president of Dew Point Control LLC. "It's very easy to stabilize the crude - it just takes money. The producer doesn't want to pay for it if he can ship it without doing it." (Reuters) ### "In the Bakken, you've got two choices. You burn it, or you put it into the crude in the railcar. The higher the concentration of light ends, the greater the flammability." Harry Giles, former manager of crude oil quality programs for the U.S. Department of Energy's Strategic Petroleum Reserve(Reuters) ### “The explosions and everything, I didn’t think crude oil did that,” said Ed Pritchard, a former accident investigator with the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration, regarding Lac-Megantic. He said that in his experience as a railroad inspector, oil companies and shippers do not always examine oil for corrosiveness and explosiveness. “They didn’t test the oil.” (Globe and Mail) ### There is a good reason why these companies continue to intentionally misclassify Bakken crude. Fines are not a deterrent. Jeffrey Wiese of PHMSA stated as much last year during an industry conference, when he said: “Do I think I can hurt a major international corporation with a $2 million civil penalty? No.” ### "But the reality is that the Bakken crude wouldn’t have this issue if it was handled like the oil from the Eagle Ford formation in Texas. There, the oil producers strip the volatile natural gas liquids (NGLs), also known as “light ends,” from the crude using a piece of equipment known as a stabilizer. They can then capture and sell these natural gas liquids. Eagle Ford producers aren’t doing this because they are more concerned about safety than their counterparts in the Bakken region. They are doing it because their crude is transported by pipeline, not rail, and it is a cost of doing business. Unlike the rail industry, the pipeline industry won’t accept crude oil with all of the volatile natural gas liquids still in it. Myron Goforth, president of a stabilizer leasing company in Houston, recently explained this to Reuters, saying that “pipeline specifications require certain pressure limits that pretty much force companies to strip out NGLs.” Rail companies have no such requirements. “It's a little like the wild west up in the Bakken, where everybody gets to do what they want to do,” Goforth said. “In the Eagle Ford, you've got to play by the rules, which forces the oil companies to treat it differently.” Much like the oil industry’s refusal to discontinue using the unsafe DOT-111 rail tank cars to transport Bakken crude in the U.S., the argument against using stabilizers in North Dakota, like they do in Texas, is the same. It would cost too much money, the companies say." --Justin Mikulka How much does it cost to replace a burnt out town and vaporized dead people?

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