US DOT and railroads want to circumvent Washington State’s Public Records Act

Repost from The Seattle Post Intelligencer (seattlepi.com)

Should shipments of oil by rail be kept secret from the public?

Posted on June 4, 2014 | By Joel Connelly
In this image made available by the City of Lynchburg, several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil in flames after derailing in downtown Lynchburg, Va., Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (AP Photo/City of Lynchburg, LuAnn Hunt)Several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil erupt in  flames after derailing in downtown Lynchburg, Va., on April 30.  It was the latest in a series of oil train accidents.  Nobody was killed, but much of downtown Lynchburg was evacuated.  (AP Photo/City of Lynchburg, LuAnn Hunt)

The nation’s railroads were told last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation that they must notify state emergency management officials about the volume, frequency and county-by-county routes used in cross country shipment of volatile North Dakota crude oil.

But a hitch has developed in Washington, where refineries at Anacortes and Cherry Point north of Bellingham are increasingly relying on oil by rail.

In its order, the Department of Transportation, siding with the railroads, said the information ought to be kept secret from the public.

The DOT told state emergency preparedness agencies to “treat this data as confidential, providing it only to those with a need to know and with the understanding that recipients of the data will continue to treat it as confidential.”

The BNSF and Union Pacific Railroads have sent the state drafts of confidentiality agreements that would restrict access to what the shippers call “security sensitive information.”

In this Aug. 8, 2012 photo, a DOT-111 rail tanker passes through Council Bluffs, Iowa. DOT-111 rail cars being used to ship crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region are an "unacceptable public risk," and even cars voluntarily upgraded by the industry may not be sufficient, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2014. The cars were involved in derailments of oil trains in Casselton, N.D., and Lac-Megantic, Quebec, just across the U.S. border, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said at a House Transportation subcommittee hearing. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
A DOT-111 rail tanker passes through Council Bluffs, Iowa. DOT-111 rail cars being used to ship crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region are an “unacceptable public risk,” and even cars voluntarily upgraded by the industry may not be sufficient, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board told Congress in February. The cars were involved in derailments of oil trains in Casselton, N.D., and Lac-Megantic, Quebec, just across the U.S. border. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

On Wednesday, however, spokesman Mark Stewart of state Emergency Response Commission told the Associated Press that the railroads’ request conflicts with one of Washington pioneering open government laws.

The confidentiality agreements “require us to withhold the information in a manner that’s not consistent with the Public Records Act,” Stewart told the AP.

The US DOT order came in the wake of a series of oil train fires, most recently train cars catching fire in Lynchburg, Virginia and dumping “product” into the James River.

This follows a deadly runaway trail explosion last year that leveled the downtown of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and killed 47 people, as well as an explosion and fire near Casselton, North Dakota.

Lawmakers, notably Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, have pressed the Transportation Department to speed implementation of new safety rules that would require phaseout of 1960′s-vintage, explosion vulnerable DOT 111 tank cars.

The Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes accepted its first trainload of oil in September of 2012. The shipments have soared, with 17 million barrels of oil coming into the state by rail in 2013.  Trains carry as many as 50,000 barrels of crude oil to the Tesoro refinery.

And Tesoro wants to build a $100 million rail-to-barge terminal in the Port of Vancouver on the Columbia River. It would be the largest such terminal in the Northwest, capable of receiving 380,000 barrels of oil a day. The Vancouver City Council voted earlier this week to oppose the project.

Shell Anacortes is in the process of creating a facility that would take 100-car oil trains.  The BP Refinery at Cherry Point is also receiving oil by rail.

All told, according to a Sightline Institute study, 11 refineries and ports in Washington and Oregon are either receiving oil by rail, or have projects underway to receive rail shipments of oil.

The shipments head by rail through cities in both Eastern and Western Washington.

The railroads have been highly secretive about their operations.  They are regulated by the federal government under the Interstate Commerce Act, leaving cities and local governments with almost no rights to request information or limit operations.

The BNSF has promised to purchase 5,000 newer, safer tank cars, and Tesoro has pledged to phase out use of the DOT-111 cars this year.

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    Vancouver City Council votes to oppose crude oil train terminal – “unacceptable risks”

    Repost from ThinkProgress

    Washington City Rejects Massive Oil Train Project, Citing ‘Unacceptable Risks’

    By Emily Atkin June 4, 2014

    Flanked by hundreds of concerned residents, the City Council of Vancouver in southwestern Washington State voted early Tuesday morning to formally oppose what would be the Pacific Northwest’s largest crude oil train terminal, saying the project poses “unacceptable risks” to the city’s population of 160,000.

    The council’s decision came after six hours of testimony from more than 100 residents, most of them opposed to Tesoro Corp.’s plan to develop a large train terminal at the Port of Vancouver, which would receive up to 380,000 barrels of North Dakotan crude oil per day and transfer it to ships bound for West Coast refineries. That amount of oil, which would come through the city on four separate unit trains per day, is just less than half the daily amount that would be transported by the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

    “The Council’s opposition … [is] due to the unacceptable risks posed to the citizens of Vancouver by the terminal and the related transportation of Bakken crude oil through the city,” the resolution, passed 5-2, reads.

    The broad, non-binding resolution opposing Tesoro’s proposal also included language that formally opposes any proposal that would result in an increase of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale being hauled through Clark County. Last July, 47 people were killed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has warned Bakken crude could be more flammable than regular oil, due to either its unique properties or because of added chemicals from the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract it.

    The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also recently made recommendations that crude oil trains stay far away from urban population centers, citing the increasing rate of fiery accidents involving crude oil trains.

    Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Councilor Bill Turlay were the two that voted no against the proposal, with Leavitt saying he didn’t want to make a “political statement” against a single project without having all the facts.

    “It’s kind of like back in the Old West, [when] Judge Roy Bean said, ‘We’re going to have a fair trial and hang the guilty bastard’,” Turlay said, according to a report in the Columbian. “Now, that’s not exactly how I want to present this.”

    Turlay and Leavitt did join the other councilors in voting for a resolution that would allow the city to actually have a say in the decision-making process over Tesoro’s proposed project. That resolution allowing intervention in the decision-making process gives Vancouver officials the right to present evidence against the project and appeal any decision, which will ultimately be made by the state’s sitting governor, currently Gov. Jay Inslee.

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      Bakken: The King in the North

      Download from Platts.com McGraw Hill Financial
      [Editor: Platts.com is an excellent source of energy industry insider information.  Their 4-page May, 2014 report, “Bakken: The King in the North,” has technical data on Bakken background, industry trends and market predictions.  I have excerpted a few sample quotes below.  – RS]

      Bakken: The King in the North

      Bakken consumers & potential reach in US Atlantic Coast refineriesBakken crude oil represents light sweet crude produced from the Bakken Shale Formation in the North Dakota / Montana / Saskatchewan / Manitoba region. Production from the US side of the Williston Basin, the sedimentary basin that contains the productive Bakken Shale Formation, crossed the 900,000 b/d mark in November 2013 and was more than 888,000 b/d in February, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority and estimates from Bentek, a unit of Platts.
      ….
      Pipeline capacity out of the Bakken is set to increase from 600,000 b/d currently to over 1 million b/d by early 2016….

      Bakken transportation flows by type

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