Tag Archives: Sightline

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.

Davis and “Uprail” Communities organize to oppose Crude By Rail

Repost from Cool Davis, Davis, California

Crude-by-Rail Opportunity for Written Comments

Workshop on How to Respond to the Draft EIR
Wednesday, June 18 from 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Fellowship Hall at Davis Community Church (421 D Street)
Instruction, brainstorming, and organizing our efforts

The Draft EIR for the Valero rail terminal Project in Benicia (70,000 barrels of crude oil /day or one unit train of 100 cars over 1 mile) will be released for a 45-day public comment period on June 10, with a possible extension to 60 or 90 days for review.

Our city will comment and has invited surrounding jurisdictions to join them. Other organizations and concerned individuals are also invited to make written comments during the comment period. To inform yourself about the project and begin thinking how you might respond, some recommended resources are:

https://beniciaindependent.com It posts all the official documents related to the proposed project as well as a plethora of articles.

 http://www.sightline.org is also a terrific resource for the bigger picture of crude-by-rail and also coal and natural gas export. http://www.sightline.org/research/the-northwests-pipeline-on-rails/ and http://daily.sightline.org/blog_series/the-northwests-pipeline-on-rails/ This blog series is outstanding, although it is aimed at Washington and Oregon which are besieged by trains compared to CA so far.

• Natural Resources Defense Council letter on safety (30 pages) http://yolanoclimateaction.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/rail-safety-comments-final-group-letter.pdf

• Two reports by Forest Ethics,    http://yolanoclimateaction.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/off-the-rails-ultimate-nw-forst-ethics-report.pdf     and http://forestethics.org//sites/forestethics.huang.radicaldesigns.org/files/ForestEthics-Refineries-Report-Sept2012.pdf

• Document by Attorney General Kamala Harris on safety and health concerns http://yolanoclimateaction.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/kamala-harris-addresses-inadequate-eir-on-wespac-in-pittsburg/#more-107

• An article on liability which is an angle that may not be addressed in the DEIR, http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/03/17/record-year-oil-train-accidents-leaves-insurers-wary
Gov. Brown added $6.7 million to the Office of Spill Prevention & Response to handle accidents.  It won’t go far in a catastrophe.

• More on risk assessment for railroads and who will be responsible for liability. http://daily.sightline.org/2014/05/19/risk-assessment-for-railroads/

• Rachel Maddow’s May 2, 2014 broadcast, “Public Safety at risk by Oil Train Shipments” at http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show

Key areas for uprail responders will most likely include public safety, the hazards of spills in terms of the environment, the insistence on the Right-to-know laws, health risks, liability issues, and the true cost of oil in terms of climate change.  Benicia has to respond to all comments in their final EIR, so the more specific, thoughtful and numerous our comments, the better.  Different people can address different aspects.

Another opportunity for citizen response: The Phillips 66 Santa Maria refinery in San Luis Obispo County request for a rail spur for 5 oil trains of 88 cars per week expects to release their Draft EIR possibly in July.