ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — While the federal government ordered railroads a month ago to give states details about shipments of volatile crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken shale region, New York officials haven't decided whether to share that information with the public.
The Associated Press and eight environmental groups filed Freedom of Information Law requests with the state Office of Emergency Management this week, arguing that it's in the public interest for communities to know more about the shipments in light of at least eight major accidents during the last year, including one that killed 47 people in Quebec a year ago.
The state agency said it will respond to the information requests within 20 days.
CSX Corp., Union Pacific and BNSF Railway have sought to prevent states from turning over the information on oil train routes and volumes, arguing that details on the shipments are security sensitive. But officials in some states, including North Dakota, Montana, California and Florida, have released information on oil trains in response to requests from The Associated Press.
"There is no legal basis to protect what they have provided us at this point," said Mary Kae Kelsch, North Dakota assistant attorney general.
William Peat, a spokesman for New York's Office of Emergency Management, said Thursday the agency is still reviewing CSX's nondisclosure agreement.
So-called unit trains, each pulling about 100 tanker cars filled with about 3 million gallons of crude oil, began running in 2008 when North Dakota production outstripped capacity with existing pipelines.
In New York, CSX and Canadian Pacific Railway haul crude oil from the Midwest en route to coastal refineries. Much of the crude comes to the Port of Albany, where terminals operated by Waltham, Massachusetts-based Global Partners and Houston-based Buckeye Partners store the oil and transfer it to ships and barges heading down the Hudson River.
According to information from the state, as much as 1,000 miles of New York's 4,100-mile rail network is part of the virtual crude oil pipeline from the northern Great Plains, which passes through 22 counties, along major waterways and through cities including Buffalo, Syracuse, Utica, Albany and Plattsburgh.
While CSX has requested a nondisclosure agreement with the states, Canadian Pacific did not, CP spokesman Ed Greenberg said. "However, it's our position that state emergency officials were acknowledging that this information was only for first responders at the state and local level," he said.
"The benefit of having the submissions that are required by the DOT order is that it will be the first time we have something firsthand from rail carriers that says this is what's happening and where it's happening," said Christopher Amato. He is the attorney for Earthjustice who filed the Freedom of Information Law request on behalf of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, Riverkeeper, Environmental Advocates and other groups. "We'll have some real information on what's happening right under our noses."