Tag Archives: Maryland Department of the Environment

Held up in court for a year, Maryland oil train reports outdated

Repost from McClatchyDC

Held up in court for a year, Maryland oil train reports outdated

By Curtis Tate, September 12, 2015

HIGHLIGHTS
•  McClatchy received reports it asked for in 2014
•  Documents contained data previously revealed
•  Economics of crude by rail have shifted since

After more than a year, McClatchy finally got the oil train reports it had requested from Maryland.

And they were badly out of date.

Last year, McClatchy filed open-records requests in about 30 states for the documents, and was the first news organization to do so in Maryland, in June 2014.

Maryland was poised to release the records in July 2014, when two railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern, sued the state Department of the Environment to block the disclosure.

Finally last month, a state judge ruled in the favor of the release, marking the first time a court had affirmed what many other states had already done without getting sued.

The documents McClatchy and other news organizations ultimately received were dated June 2014, not long after the U.S. Department of Transportation began requiring the railroads to notify state officials of shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil.

After more than a year, however, the economics of shipping crude by rail had changed substantially.

Amid a slump in oil prices, refineries once receiving multiple trainloads of North American crude oil every day have switched, at least temporarily, to waterborne foreign imports.

The trend is reflected from the East Coast to the West Coast, where long strings of surplus tank cars have been parked on lightly used rail lines, generating rental income for small railroads but also the ire of nearby residents.

The documents released in Maryland show that in June 2014, Norfolk Southern was moving as many as 16 oil trains a week through Cecil County on its way to a refinery in Delaware.

But McClatchy has known that since August 2014, when it received a response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Amtrak.

The Delaware News Journal reported that the PBF Refinery in Delaware City, Del., now receives only about 40,000 barrels a day of crude by rail. That’s about 56 loaded tank cars, or half a unit train, nowhere close to the volume of mid-2014.

The June 2014 Maryland documents also show that CSX was moving as many as five oil trains a week on a route from western Maryland through downtown Baltimore toward refineries in Philadelphia.

But that had been clear since at least October 2014, when the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency released its oil train reports showing an identical number of CSX trains crossing from western Pennsylvania into Maryland, then back into southeast Pennsylvania.

CSX told the Baltimore Sun that it had not regularly moved a loaded oil train through Baltimore since the third quarter of 2014. The company had earlier told the newspaper that it moved empty oil trains through the city and state.

Federal regulators never required railroads to report empty oil train movements.

The vast majority of loaded CSX oil trains move to Philadelphia via Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany, N.Y., and northern New Jersey, according to records from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

Share...

    Maryland judge orders railroads to release oil train reports

    Repost from McClatchyDC

    Maryland judge orders release of oil train reports

    HIGHLIGHTS
    • Case marks first time railroads have lost on the issue in court
    • Judge not persuaded that release would harm security, business
    • Companies that filed 2014 lawsuit have until Sept. 4 to appeal

    By Curtis Tate, August 17, 2015
    Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the the reports confidential.
    Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the reports confidential. Curtis Tate – McClatchy

    WASHINGTON – A Maryland judge rejected two rail carriers’ arguments that oil train reports should be withheld from the public, ordering them released to McClatchy and other news organizations that sought them.

    The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to see them.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation began requiring in May 2014 that railroads inform states of large shipments of crude oil after a series of derailments with spills, fires, explosions and evacuations. Since February, six more major oil train derailments have occurred in North America.

    Nonetheless, some railroads have continued to press their case that the reports should be exempt from disclosure under state open records laws. Most states shared the documents anyway, and Pennsylvania and Texas did so after McClatchy appealed. Maryland is the only state that was taken to court after it said it would release the reports.

    Norfolk Southern and CSX sued the Maryland Department of the Environment in July 2014 to stop the state agency from releasing the records to McClatchy and the Associated Press. They have until Sept. 4 to appeal the decision, issued Friday by Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

    Both companies, which transport crude oil to East Coast refineries concentrated in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said they would review the decision.

    Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said the company would “respond at the appropriate time and venue.”

    Melanie Cost, a spokeswoman for CSX, said the railroad “remains committed to safely moving these and all other shipments on its network.”

    The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to access them.

    In his 20-page opinion, Fletcher-Hill was not persuaded by arguments that releasing the oil train reports would harm the railroads’ security and business interests. He also dismissed the relevance of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s May final rule addressing the safety of oil trains. The companies had argued that the final rule supported their claims.

    He also ordered the companies to pay any open court costs.

    In a statement, Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said the agency was pleased with the ruling and that it is “committed to transparency in government.”

    Rail transportation of Bakken crude oil, produced through hydraulic fracturing of shale formations in North Dakota, has grown exponentially in the past five years. However, a series of fiery derailments, including one in Quebec in 2013 that killed 47 people, have raised numerous concerns about public safety, environmental protection and emergency planning and response.

    U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued an emergency order on May 7, 2014, that required any railroad shipping 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil through a state to inform that state’s emergency response commission what routes the trains would take and which counties they would cross, as well as provide a reasonable estimate of how many trains to expect in a week.

    Beginning in June 2014, McClatchy submitted open records requests in 30 states for the oil train reports, including Maryland.

    McClatchy was able to glean some of the details in the Maryland report through a Freedom of Information Act request to Amtrak, which owns part of Norfolk Southern’s oil train route in the state. The subsequent release of oil train reports in Pennsylvania revealed more about such operations in Maryland.

    On Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf released an 84-page assessment of oil train safety in the state, which examined derailment risk, tank car failures and regulatory oversight. Some Maryland lawmakers have called for the state to perform a similar assessment.

    Share...

      Norfolk Southern sues to block disclosure of crude oil shipments

      Repost from McClatchy DC

      Norfolk Southern sues to block disclosure of crude oil shipments

      By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, July 24, 2014 
      A Norfolk Southern crude oil train barrels east through Columbia, Pa., on March 22, 2014. The train runs parallel to the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and Maryland on its way to the PBF Energy refinery in Delaware City, Del. On Wednesday, the railroad sued the state of Maryland to prevent the disclosure of information about the shipments, including their routes and frequencies. McClatchy and the Associated Press had requested the documents through the state Public Information Act. CURTIS TATE — McClatchy

      — A major hauler of crude oil by rail has sued the state of Maryland to stop the public release of information about the shipments, according to court documents.

      The suit was filed Wednesday, the same day the U.S. Department of Transportation announced proposed rules to improve the safety of crude oil shipments by rail. Several serious oil train accidents resulting in spills, fires and fatalities have increased scrutiny on the industry.

      Rail companies prefer to keep details about crude oil shipments confidential and some states have agreed, but others have decided that the records can be made public.

      Several states – including California, Washington, Illinois and Florida – have fulfilled open records requests from news organizations and others. Though rail companies didn’t want the information made public, none had pursued a legal challenge to block its release.

      The Maryland suit, triggered by a state Public Information Act request from McClatchy and the Associated Press, appears to be the first time a railroad has gone to court over the issue.

      Norfolk Southern, a major Eastern rail company based in Norfolk, Va., filed the suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City to seek a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction to prevent the release of the information the two news organizations requested.

      The Maryland Department of the Environment had given the railroad until Thursday to challenge its decision to release the information. In a letter to McClatchy, the department wrote that it expected a similar lawsuit from CSX, a rival Eastern rail carrier.

      Norfolk Southern declined to comment.

      In May, following a series of derailments that involved crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale region, the USDOT required rail companies to notify state emergency management officials about shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken oil within state borders.

      The notifications were intended primarily to help fire departments better prepare for potential derailments. Railroads asked state officials to sign confidentiality agreements _ citing concerns about security and competition _ and initially, the USDOT advised states to comply.

      But in response to numerous state open-records requests, the department eventually conceded that no federal law protected the information from public disclosure.

      According to the suit filed by Norfolk Southern, Thomas Levering, the director of emergency preparedness and planning for the Maryland Department of the Environment, signed such a confidentiality agreement May 28.

      McClatchy filed a Public Information Act request for the information on June 10.

      On June 13, the railroad received a letter from the office of Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler voiding the confidentiality agreement. It said Levering had “no legal authority” to sign the agreement and that it was in conflict with the state open records law. Gansler’s office declined to comment for this story.

      On June 27, Norfolk Southern sent a letter objecting to the attorney general’s claims. The railroad argued that the crude oil shipment information enjoyed “mandatory protection” under state law because it contained “confidential commercial information.”

      The railroad also wrote that state law protects information that could “jeopardize the security of a facility or facilitate the planning of a terrorist attack.”

      The federal government has nearly sole jurisdiction over rail transportation and transportation security, and neither the USDOT or the Transportation Security Administration considers information about crude oil shipments by rail “security sensitive.”

      The Norfolk Southern suit provides a glimpse of the rail industry’s thinking on the issue. In an affidavit that accompanies the injunction request, the railroad concedes that much of the information in the crude oil notifications is already publicly available.

      Michael McClellan, Norfolk Southern’s vice president for industrial products, wrote that information about rail lines and the customers they serve is available from various sources, including rail enthusiast websites and the railroads themselves.

      He also noted that information about the processing capacity of oil refineries and rail terminals can be found on Wikipedia. But he said specific knowledge about crude oil routes and volumes would give an advantage to the railroad’s competitors, including other train lines, as well as trucking, pipeline and marine vessel operators, potentially reducing Norfolk Southern’s market share.

      In another affidavit, Carl Carbaugh, the railroad’s director of infrastructure security, wrote that terrorist Internet postings and publications have identified the U.S. freight rail network as a potential target.

      Carbaugh wrote that “understanding where and when trains operate is difficult to discern without routing information or knowing type and volume of commodity shipped,” and publicizing such details “undercuts an inherent strength” in the industry’s risk profile.

      But he also conceded that it’s impossible to build a fence around 250,000 miles of track across the country. The biggest security problem most railroads face is from trespassers and theft of consumer goods from stopped trains.

      Of the roughly 16 major derailments involving shipments of crude oil or ethanol since 2006, none was the result of a terrorist attack. Though some of those accidents are still under investigation, most were caused by mechanical failure or human error.

      Share...