Some states balk at preventing public from seeing information about oil trains

U.S. railroads forced to turn over details of their volatile crude oil shipments are asking states to sign agreements not to disclose the information.
By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press Published: June 6, 2014
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— U.S. railroads forced to turn over details of their volatile crude oil shipments are asking states to sign agreements not to disclose the information. But some states are refusing, saying Thursday that the information shouldn’t be kept from the public.

Federal officials last month ordered railroads to make the disclosures after a string of fiery tank-car accidents in North Dakota, Alabama, Virginia and Quebec, where 47 people died when a runaway oil train exploded in the town of Lac-Megantic.

The disclosures due midnight Saturday include route details, volumes of oil carried and emergency-response information for trains hauling 1 million gallons or more of crude. That’s the equivalent of 35 tank cars.

BNSF, Union Pacific and CSX are seeking agreements that the information won’t be publicly shared. They said the information is security sensitive and releasing it could put them at a competitive disadvantage.

State emergency officials said communities need to know about the trains and the proposed agreements would violate open-records laws.

“Our state statutes prohibit us from signing,” said Lori Getter with Wisconsin Emergency Management. “It will help the responders to make sure they are fully prepared and trained to respond to a potential incident. But it’s also good to let the community know.”

In addition to Wisconsin, Montana, Illinois, North Dakota, Idaho and Washington state also have declined so far to sign the agreements, according to state emergency officials. Other states have said they intend to meet the railroads’ requests.

In Colorado, South Dakota, Iowa and Oregon, the confidentiality proposals are under review by attorneys and no decision has been made, officials said. Officials in Virginia said they intend to make the information public.

U.S. crude oil shipments topped 110,000 carloads in the first quarter of 2014. That’s an estimated 3.2 billion gallons of crude and the highest volume ever moved by rail, the Association of American Railroads said Thursday. It’s spurred by booming production in the Northern Plains.

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