Tag Archives: Maryland

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.

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    New York State Bans Fracking

    Repost from EcoWatch
    [Editor:  See additional coverage in Bloomberg and the FuelFix.  – RS]

    It’s Official: New York Bans Fracking

    By Cole Mellino, June 29, 2015 4:07 pm

    New York State officially banned fracking today by issuing its formal Findings Statement, which completed the state’s seven-year review of fracking.

    “After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative,” said New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens in a statement. “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated. This decision is consistent with DEC’s mission to conserve, improve and protect our state’s natural resources, and to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state.”

    Today representatives of New Yorkers Against Fracking, Frack Action and the Sierra Club delivered this giant “Thank You” scroll signed by hundreds of state residents to the 2nd floor of the Capitol Executive Chamber.
    Today, representatives of New Yorkers Against Fracking, Frack Action and the Sierra Club delivered this giant “Thank You” scroll signed by hundreds of state residents to the 2nd floor of the Capitol Executive Chamber.

    The Findings Statement concludes that “there are no feasible or prudent alternatives that adequately avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts and address risks to public health from this activity.” Two groups heavily involved in the campaign, New Yorkers Against Fracking and Americans Against Fracking, praised the decision.

    Mark Ruffalo, an advisory board member of Americans Against Fracking, worked diligently to ban fracking in his home state and recently made an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to encourage the U.S. to go 100 percent renewable by 2050. In a statement on the finalization of New York’s ban on fracking, Ruffalo said:

    I applaud the Cuomo Administration for protecting the public health and safety of New Yorkers by finalizing the ban on high volume fracking. Governor Cuomo has set a precedent for the nation by carefully considering the science, which shows a range of public health and environmental harms, and doing what’s best for the people, not the special interests of Big Oil and Gas. Already, other states and countries are following New York’s lead, with prohibitions including Maryland, Scotland, Wales and just today a crucial county in England. Along with many New Yorkers, I look forward to working on advancing renewable energy and efficiency, showing the world that a cleaner, healthier, renewable energy future is possible. Today I’m proud and thankful to be a New Yorker.

    Industry groups have, of course, threatened to sue but the attorneys at Earthjustice are confident that the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s exhaustive review “will withstand legal challenge” and Earthjustice pledges “to stand alongside the state in any legal challenge.”

    “Today, nearly a year to the day after communities won the right to ban fracking, New York’s historic statewide ban on fracking is now the law of the land,” says Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg, who represented the town of Dryden, New York, which won its precedent-setting fracking ban case one year ago tomorrow. “We salute Governor Andrew Cuomo’s refusal to bow to industry pressure. He had the courage to do what no other state or federal leader has had the courage to do: let the available scientific evidence dictate whether fracking should proceed in New York.”

    New York now joins Vermont in outlawing the practice altogether, which has been banned in the Green Mountain state since 2012. As Ruffalo mentioned, this spring Maryland approved a moratorium on fracking in the state until October 2017. Scotland and Wales have also instituted moratoriums. And today a county in England rejected applications for fracking permits, which the Wall Street Journal says “effectively extends the moratorium on fracking in the U.K.” Meanwhile, Texas and Oklahoma both passed legislation this spring, barring local municipalities from instituting fracking bans.

    “New Yorkers can celebrate the fact that we won’t be subjected to the toxic pollution and health risks fracking inevitably brings,” said Alex Beauchamp, northeast region director for Food & Water Watch. “By banning fracking, Governor Cuomo stood up to the oil and gas industry, and in so doing became a national leader on health and the environment. He set a standard for human health and safety that President Obama and other state leaders should be striving for.”

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      State denies permit for Baltimore crude oil terminal

      Email from John Kenney, Chesapeake Climate Action Network:

      Great news out of Baltimore: Maryland puts proposed crude oil terminal on hold

      Great news out of Baltimore! Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) put the permits for the proposed crude oil terminal that we’ve been fighting on hold! MDE actually listened to our public comments saying that crude oil trains were way more dangerous than they previously thought, so they asked more questions for the company before issuing a final permit in the future. There will be plenty of opportunities to comment if the company decides to proceed with their plan to ship crude oil.

      For now, the expansion of crude by rail in Maryland is on hold.

      However, the fight isn’t over. Advocates throughout our region are continuing to organize. Crude oil still runs through Maryland, is still shipped out of Baltimore, and we still don’t have route transparency. Our goal is to continue pushing city and state legislators to take action, and will send updates along the way. Please see article [at right] for more details.

      Repost from the Baltimore Sun

      State denies permit for Baltimore crude oil terminal

      By Jeff Barker, June 3, 2015 8:24 P.M.
      Targa Resources
      Targa Terminals, located at 1955 Chesapeake Avenue along the Patapsco River, has applied for an air-quality permit with the Maryland Department of Environment to begin handling crude oil at the Baltimore facility. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

      The state Department of the Environment has denied, for now, a Houston-based company’s application to permit crude oil to be shipped through its port of Baltimore terminal in Fairfield — a proposal that nearby residents say poses a safety threat.

      The agency said it needs more information from Targa Resources, a Houston-based firm that handles and stores oil, natural gas and petroleum products.

      MDE “is not moving forward with any further review of the crude oil related application submitted in February until the department receives additional information from the company,” it said in a summary of its decision.

      A bill that would have required a study of crude oil rail shipments in Maryland, such as the one above in Cecil County, has stalled.

      CBR-in-Maryland
      A bill that would have required a study of crude oil rail shipments in Maryland, such as the one above in Cecil County, has stalled. (Photo by Amy Davis)

      “Before any decision is made on a crude oil related project at the Targa facility, there will be additional public review opportunities beyond the public meeting already held,” the agency said.

      If MDE had approved the permit, Targa would have become the second Fairfield-area terminal to handle crude oil shipments. Axeon Specialty Products, based in Stamford, Conn., ships tens of millions of gallons of crude oil through its nearby terminal just north of Interstate 895.

      Axeon brings crude oil in by rail from the west and ships it by barge to refineries in the Northeast. But even those shipments are relatively new. While it moved nearly 57 million gallons of crude through Baltimore in the fiscal year that ended June 30 and 53 million gallons the year before, it handled none the previous two years, according to data from MDE’s Oil Control Program.

      Substantially more crude oil passes through the state, much of it through Cecil County, but is not captured by the oil-control program because it is not unloaded.

      Shipments of domestic crude oil have boomed in recent years because of the surge in production from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. So much oil is coming out of the ground there and from the Canadian oil sands that a global glut has suppressed prices.

      Another derailment of a train carrying Bakken crude in Lynchburg, Va., in April 2014 caused an explosion and an evacuation and spilled thousands of gallons of crude into the James River, but no one was injured.

      Other incidents have occurred in West Virginia and North Dakota.

      While it denied the crude oil permit, MDE did grant Targa an air-quality permit May 26 allowing other products to be transported through the terminal. The permit will enable the company to offload fuel oils, noncrude oils and distillates from rail cars onto tanker trucks.

      At Targa’s request, MDE considered the crude oil request separately. The agency said in its decision that Targa asked it to split the application “in order to meet current customer demand for storage and transport of the other types of fuel oils and distillates.”

      Vincent DiCosimo, Targa’s senior vice president for petroleum logistics, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

      He has said previously that the company takes safety seriously and has the record to prove it.

      “Targa is just as interested in safety as you are,” he said in December at a public hearing hosted by the department and attended by about 25 residents and environmentalists.

      But residents have expressed concerns and environmental advocacy organizations said the new facility would increase the threat crude oil shipments pose to the Chesapeake Bay’s fragile ecosystem, since Targa would transfer the oil from trains onto barges for transport to East Coast refineries.

      The company purchased the Fairfield terminal, previously owned by Chevron, in 2011.

      “This decision by the Maryland Department of the Environment is good news,” said Leah Kelly, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, in a statement Wednesday.

      “Shipping crude oil through this terminal in Baltimore could have increased the risk of accidents and potentially explosions, such as have happened in Virginia, West Virginia and Canada,” she said. “Targa Terminals’ application for the crude oil permit was full of holes. MDE has said that it will not move forward with the crude oil permit unless the company provides more information about the air pollution that would be created by its operations.”

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        New oil-train safety rules will put public back in the dark

        Repost from the Bellingham Herald

        New oil-train safety rules will put public back in the dark

        By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, May 1, 2015

        WASHINGTON — Details about rail shipments of crude oil and ethanol will be made exempt from public disclosure under new regulations announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday.

        The department will end its requirement, put in place a year ago, that required railroads to share information about large volumes of Bakken crude oil with state officials.

        Instead, railroads will share information directly with emergency responders, but it will be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and state public records laws, the way other hazardous materials such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia are currently protected.

        After a CSX train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and caught fire in Lynchburg, Va., on April 30 last year, federal regulators required railroads to notify emergency response agencies of shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil through their states.

        The railroads complied, but asked states to sign agreements to keep the information confidential. Some agreed, but most refused, citing a conflict with their open records laws.

        Using FOIA and state public records laws, McClatchy last year obtained full or partial data on Bakken rail shipments from 24 states. Another five states denied McClatchy’s requests.

        CSX and Norfolk Southern, the dominant eastern railroads, sued Maryland to block the state from releasing its information to McClatchy. A trial is scheduled for next month.

        McClatchy, however, was able to obtain some of the information about the Maryland shipments by going to Amtrak. Norfolk Southern uses a portion of the passenger railroad’s Northeast Corridor for its crude oil trains.

        Last fall, the rail industry’s leading trade groups quietly asked the Transportation Department to drop the requirement.

        In pretrial documents in the Maryland lawsuit, the railroads’ lawyers maintain that disclosure of the information – including the routes the trains take and the counties through which they pass – could compromise security, erode the companies’ competitive edge and harm their customers.

        As of October, the Federal Railroad Administration disagreed. It said that information about the Bakken shipments was neither security nor commercially sensitive and was not exempt from public release. It also said it would continue the reporting requirement.

        But on page 242 of the 395-page final rule the department published on Friday, it appeared that the railroads got their wish.

        Starting next year, emergency responders will have access to information about shipments of all types of crude oil, not just Bakken, ethanol and other flammable liquids. The volume threshold will also be lowered to 20 or more cars of flammable liquid in a continuous block, or 35 or more cars dispersed throughout a train.

        The shipments, however, will be classified as “security sensitive” and details about them shielded from the public.

        “Under this approach,” the regulation states, “the transportation of crude oil by rail can…avoid the negative security and business implications of widespread public disclosure of routing and volume data.”

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