BILLINGS, Mont. — Disclosures from railroads about volatile oil shipments from the northern Plains show dozens of the trains passing weekly through Illinois and the Midwest and up to 19 a week reaching Washington state on the West Coast.
The Associated Press obtained details on the shipments Tuesday under public records requests filed with state emergency officials. They offer the most detailed insights to date on the increasing volumes of crude being moved across North America by rail in the wake of a domestic shale oil boom.
The disclosures from railroads also underscore an unsettling fact: Many of those shipments pass through highly urbanized areas where an accident would be most severe.
BNSF Railway, for example, reported moving as many as 27 oil trains in a week through Chicago’s Cook County and 13 in a week through King County, which includes Seattle.
The routing of oil trains has become an issue of rising concern after a string of fiery accidents. Those include derailments in North Dakota, Alabama, New Brunswick and Quebec, where a runaway oil train crashed last July in Lac-Megantic and killed 47 people.
Railroads had sought to prevent the public disclosure of the information obtained by the AP, citing security reasons. But the Federal Railroad Administration says the information is not sensitive information that must be withheld from the public to protect security.
Light, sweet crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana has been involved in most of the major accidents as the crude-by-rail industry rapidly expanded during the past several years.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in May ordered railroads to give information on Bakken oil trains to states, saying it would help first responders and other emergency officials prepare for an accident.
A single train can carry 3 million gallons of the fuel. Foxx’s order covered all shipments of a million gallons or more.
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