Oklahoma may reverse course on oil train shipment disclosures

After previously determining information should be withheld about trains carrying oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation, Oklahoma officials want to revise confidentiality agreements they signed with the railroads.
by Paul Monies Modified: July 11, 2014 at 8:00 pm •  Published: July 10, 2014

Oklahoma officials are taking a second look at confidentiality agreements signed with railroads preventing disclosure of information to the public about shipments of oil from the fast-growing Bakken shale formation.

After inquiries last week by The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said a commission acting as the clearinghouse for first responders on hazardous cargo information entered into confidentiality agreements with three railroads. The agreements prevented the release of the oil train shipment information to members of the public.

But Thursday, officials said agency attorneys are taking another look at the agreements after the Federal Railroad Administration said the reports do not contain “security-sensitive information.” Oklahoma officials previously withheld the information under an exemption to the state Open Records Act regarding “information relating to terrorism.”

Skylar McElhaney, DEQ spokeswoman, said the Oklahoma Hazardous Emergency Response Commission initially acted under guidance from the federal Transportation Department on how to treat the reports about oil shipments by rail from the Bakken in North Dakota.

“Now that DOT and the Federal Railroad Administration have both affirmed that details about rail shipments of Bakken oil are not security sensitive, DEQ’s legal staff is looking into the validity of the non-disclosure agreements,” McElhaney said in an email.

Monty Elder, a DEQ employee who heads the commission, sent emails Thursday to BNSF Railway Co., Union Pacific Railroad Co. and Stillwater Central Railroad telling them of the possible changes in the confidentiality agreements signed by the commission.

“The only other rationale for the non-disclosure agreement is UP’s claim of confidential business information,” Elder wrote in one email to Union Pacific. “OHMERC will not be able to continue in the agreement on this basis unless UP submits documentation to substantiate the confidentiality claim.”

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by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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