Category Archives: Disclosure of tank car contents

Vandalism on inactive rail line used to justify oil train secrecy

Repost from The Bellingham Herald

Vandalism on inactive rail line used to justify oil train secrecy

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, May 10, 2015
A train carrying tanker cars filled with crude oil passes through St. Paul, Minnesota, on February 27, 2013. JIM GEHRZ — Minneapolis Star-Tribune/MCT

Part of the federal government’s justification for keeping details about oil trains secret is literally hiding in the weeds on the South Dakota prairie.

Itself hidden on page 255 of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 395-page final rule on trains carrying large volumes of flammable liquids, the example is sure to raise additional questions about the government’s decision to shield routing and volume details on oil trains from public view.

Such details have been publicly available for the past year, at least about weekly shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil. But rail and oil companies have been adamant that the government drop the disclosure requirement it imposed last May, citing concerns about security and business confidentiality.

In its rule, the department cited an investigation by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into an act of vandalism reported last December in Vivian, S.D.

According to investigators, a two-foot section of rail on the state-owned Dakota Southern Railway was blown out with tannerite, an explosive used in target practice that can be purchased at sporting goods stores.

In its rule, the department notes that “widespread access to security sensitive information could be used for criminal purposes when it comes to crude oil by rail transportation.”

But not only is the track through Vivian not used for oil trains, it hasn’t been used by any train for years.

Publicly searchable photos show that the rail line is clearly out of service, its rusting rails barely visible, if at all, under prairie grass. Several road crossings along the route have been paved over, including the one where U.S. Highway 83 crosses the track in Vivian.

Officials didn’t even notice the missing piece of rail for weeks.

South Dakota bought the nearly 300-mile rail line connecting Mitchell and Rapid City from the bankrupt Milwaukee Road in the early 1980s to preserve train service for grain-producing communities.

While part of the eastern end of the line has come back to life in recent years, thanks to federal and state investment, the western half, including the track that runs through Vivian, has mostly been out of service.

McClatchy received partial or full reports on Bakken oil trains from 24 states last year through their open records laws. South Dakota was one of those states, and the Dakota Southern Railway was not labeled as an oil train route.

Bloomberg: California AG Rejects Trade-Secret Claims for Crude-by-Rail

Repost from Bloomberg News

California AG Rejects Trade-Secret Claims for Crude-by-Rail

By Victoria Slind-Flor, Oct 22, 2014

California Attorney General Kamala Harris expressed reservations about the trade-secret provisions in a proposal for a crude-by-rail project in Benicia, California.

In a letter to the city’s Community Development Department, she said the draft environmental impact report for San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corp. (VLO)’s project “frustrates” the California Environmental Quality Act by not disclosing information about which particular crude oil feedstocks would be delivered in as many as 100 tank cars a day.

She said the missing information includes the weight, sulfur content, vapor pressure and acidity of the crude oil feedstocks, information she said is “critical for an adequate analysis” of the effects of the project on public safety and air quality.

Harris said the California governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the state Transportation Department determined that information about the specific characteristics of the crude moved by rail “are not protected trade secrets and should be publicly released.”

The attorney general said these issues “must be addressed and corrected” before the City Council of Benicia takes action on the draft environmental impact report.

Benicia, a city of about 27,000, is on the edge of the Carquinez Strait emptying into San Francisco Bay.

Report shows increase in Central Oregon oil trains

Repost from The Bulletin (Serving Central Oregon)
[Editor: Significant quote: “The company’s (BNSF) most recent report shows a change in data format.  In the first two reports, BNSF reported the actual number of trains passing through Central Oregon during a specific week. While the new report still focuses on a specific week, the company is now giving a estimated number of oil trains.”  – RS]

Report shows increase in Central Oregon oil trains

BNSF: 100-car Bakken trains passing through Bend

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / Oct 14, 2014 

While a state-released report by BNSF Railway about the number of large Bakken crude oil trains passing through Central Oregon shows a potential notable increase, a company spokesman said Monday the actual number of trains is less than detailed in the report.

Following relatively new federal rules about reporting oil trains, BNSF Railway Co . sent a Sept. 30 report to the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal showing that an estimated zero to three oil trains carrying more than 1 million gallons of crude oil each pass through Deschutes and Jefferson counties per week.

A report earlier this year showed one such train passed through Central Oregon weekly.

“The real number is one every 12 days,” said Gus Melonas, spokesman for BNSF. That works out to three or four of the trains per month going through Redmond, Bend and beyond. He said the trains are carrying the oil to refineries in California.

The trains going through Central Oregon and the Columbia River carry crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota, oil that has proved to be more volatile than other crude oil. Bakken oil train derailments have led to dramatic explosions in Canada and North Dakota. Last May, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring railroads to provide information to state emergency responders about large train shipments of Bakken oil.

The BNSF rail route through the Gorge, bringing crude oil to refineries near Portland and in Washington, sees two to three oil trains per day, Melonas said. He said the route through Bend is “not a high volume line.”

The reporting rules pertain to trains carrying 1 million or more gallons of crude oil, the equivalent of about a 35-car train.

“If they have a train carrying less than a million crude, they don’t have to report it at all,” Rich Hoover, community liaison for the Office of State Fire Marshal, said Monday.

Melonas declined to give details on whether there are trains carrying less than a million gallons of crude oil rolling through Central Oregon, citing security and customer information concerns. If there were, he said, the oil cars would be hauled with cars carrying other commodities.

“We don’t put out specifics,” he said.

Each time a railroad company has an increase or decrease of 25 percent or more in the number of trains passing through an area, the rules require it to send a report to the state. Since May, BNSF has sent three reports to Oregon.

The company’s most recent report shows a change in data format. In the first two reports, BNSF reported the actual number of trains passing through Central Oregon during a specific week. While the new report still focuses on a specific week, the company is now giving a estimated number of oil trains.

Hoover said the state goes by what the company states in its reports , which the Office of State Fire Marshal posts to its website.

“What you see and read is exactly how much we know,” he said.

Melonas described the trains traveling through the region as “unit trains,” meaning they haul one commodity, and each train has about 100 tanker cars. The trains hold 70,000 to 80,000 barrels of crude oil each, or about 2.94 million to 3.36 million gallons of crude oil.

Concerned about the possible catastrophic results of an oil train derailment, Sally Russell, Bend city councilor, said it is a good thing the railroad is having to supply information to the state.

“Knowledge and the ability to response and react are critical,” she said.

If the number of large oil trains passing through Central Oregon is going up, it means the potential for a situation necessitating an emergency response is increasing, Bill Boos, deputy chief of fire operations for the Bend Fire Department, said Monday.

He said he’d like to have information on oil trains, large and small, rolling through Bend.

“It would be nice to know if there were smaller quantities coming through and if that was increasing,” he said.

While concerned about the dangers of train derailment and fire in towns, Michael Lang, conservation director for Portland-based Friends of the Columbia Gorge, also worries about the risks of an oil spill into the Deschutes River. The rail line through Central Oregon follows the river north of Bend. Along with towns, the large oil trains pass through a section of designated Wild and Scenic River.

“It’s not safe,” Lang said. “It endangers our communities, it endangers our environment. … And we are really concerned about it.”

Senator Wolk wants more timely disclosure of crude-by-rail information


June 25, 2014, Contact: Melissa Jones

Senator responds to delayed release of report on crude-by-rail shipment

Wolk urges timely disclosure to state, communities to aid planning and response

SACRAMENTO—State Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) pressed for timely disclosure of crude oil shipments by railroad shipping companies, following today’s release by the State Office of Emergency Services of a report disclosing a shipment of 1 million gallons or more crude oil through Northern California by BNSF Railway, the largest crude-by-rail transporter, earlier this month.

BNSF’s June 13th disclosure of an earlier shipment followed an order last month by the U.S. Department of Transportation that railroads must begin sharing information about large shipments of crude oil with state and local officials. The federal order denied longstanding claims by railroads that this information should remain confidential, claiming the information includes “proprietary and confidential trade” secrets and poses security concerns.

“While I applaud the Office of Emergency Services’ release of BNSF Railway’s after-the-fact disclosure of a crude-by-rail shipment through nine Northern California counties earlier this month, what the public wants and what local responders need is information regarding future shipments of crude oil by rail, in order to better prepare any necessary response in the event of any potential accident or mishap with this hazardous cargo,” said Wolk. “I call on the federal and state government to require railroads to provide advance notice regarding hazardous material shipments through our communities.”

To aid planning and response by local governments to increasing shipments of these dangerous materials, Senator Wolk is authoring legislation (SB 506) with Senator Jerry Hill to provide funding to help communities like Benicia provide adequate emergency response to accidents and spills involving rail transports of crude oil and other hazardous materials.