Oklahoma officials agree to railroad demands to keep oil train shipments secret

by Paul Monies Published: July 3, 2014
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Oklahoma residents curious about the number of trains shipping oil through their communities will have to stay in the dark after state officials decided to keep the information secret.

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said a state commission acting as the clearinghouse for emergency response information entered into confidentiality agreements with several railroad companies in June.

The federal government in May ordered railroads to disclose information to state authorities about crude oil shipments from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota. The emergency order came after several accidents and explosions involving rail shipments of Bakken oil, including one in Canada last year that killed 47 people.

Preliminary tests of oil from the Bakken show it to be more flammable than other types of crude oil. The order from the federal Department of Transportation said railroads should notify state officials of trains carrying more than 1 million gallons of Bakken oil, or more than 35 tank cars.

The Oklahoma Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Commission coordinates with local agencies on emergencies involving hazardous substances under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act. The commission includes representatives from environmental, emergency management and state homeland security agencies and the state fire marshal.

After an inquiry about the Bakken rail shipment reports, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said the commission entered into confidentiality agreements with railroads under guidance from the federal Department of Transportation.

“In further interest of public safety, OHMERC (Oklahoma Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Commission) is limiting the dissemination of the sensitive information to the appropriate emergency response planners and first responders,” Skylar McElhaney, department spokeswoman, said in an email Thursday.


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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