BNSF won't seek injunction to stop release of oil train info in Washington



Updated: June 23, 2014, 5:17 PM


Tacoma Rail: 3 trains of Bakken crude oil a week

SEATTLE (AP) — Tacoma Rail says it moves about three unit trains of Bakken crude oil in Pierce County each week.

The railroad disclosed the information to Washington state earlier this month, and officials released it to The Associated Press under the state public records law.

Federal transportation officials have ordered railroads to give state officials details on oil-train routes and volumes so emergency responders can better prepare for accidents. Railroads have convinced some states to sign agreements restricting the information’s release.

Tacoma Rail, a shortline railroad owned by the city of Tacoma, disclosed that the oil trains move only in Pierce County. It said it receives Bakken crude oil deliveries from the BNSF Railroad.

The unit train consists of 90 to 120 tank cars. A tank car typically carries about 28,000 gallons.

BNSF Railway says it will not go to court to block Washington from releasing oil train notification information under the state’s public records law.

“BNSF does not intend to file an injunction regarding prospective handling of the information provided,” spokeswoman Courtney Wallace wrote in an email Monday. “The determination about how such information is controlled or communicated is ultimately a decision for the federal government and subsequently the Washington State Emergency Response Commission.”

Records of oil-train routes, quantities of crude and numbers of trains from BNSF, and Portland and Western Railroad are expected to be publicly released today, according to Chris Barnes, public records officer for the Washington Military Department.

The records were filed with the state’s Military Department earlier this month after an emergency order from the U.S. Department of Transportation. They contain information about the route, quantity and anticipated weekly traffic of shipments of more than 1 million gallons of crude oil from the Bakken shale fields spanning parts of North Dakota, Montana and Canada.

“We think it is very important that those responsible for security and emergency planning have such information to ensure that proper planning and training are in place for public safety, but we also continue to urge discretion in the wider distribution of specific details,” said BNSF’s Wallace.

After providing the notifications to various states, BNSF and Union Pacific railroads initially sought nondisclosure agreements ensuring the information would not become widely public and would only be shared with state officials and emergency responders.

100 requests

Several states, including Washington, refused to sign the agreements. Officials in Washington at one point had planned to post the information online, but backtracked after being told by the federal transportation department to treat the information as sensitive. The state then decided to require a public records request, after which it would notify railroads and grant them 10 days during which they could seek an injunction to block the release.

The Washington Military Department received more than 100 requests for the information, department spokeswoman Karina Shagren said. The majority of them came through a campaign by the advocacy group Vancouver Action Network, which has also led campaigns to count trains.

If BNSF indeed did not file an injunction before the close of business Monday, the state will release the information as public record. Two other railroads filed notifications with the state. Union Pacific informed Washington it does not move enough Bakken crude to meet the reporting threshold. The short-line Tacoma Rail carries some Bakken crude between BNSF lines and the Port of Tacoma. It had until Friday to seek an injunction and did not. The state released its notification online Monday afternoon.

In Oregon, the State Emergency Response Commission has yet to decide whether it will agree to the railroad’s request for nondisclosure. The agency is seeking guidance from the state attorney general’s office and has not yet provided a timeline for its decision.

The Columbian contributed to this story.