WASHINGTON — Two railroad industry trade groups have quietly asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to drop its requirement that rail carriers transporting large volumes of Bakken crude oil notify state emergency officials.
The railroads have maintained that they already provide communities with adequate information about hazardous materials shipments and that public release of the data could harm the industry from a security and business standpoint. But they haven’t been successful in convincing numerous states or the federal government.
On Friday, the Federal Railroad Administration published a notice in the Federal Register concluding that the Bakken train data isn’t sensitive on either a security or commercial basis, nor is it protected from disclosure by any federal law.
“At this time, DOT finds no basis to conclude that the public disclosure of the information is detrimental to transportation safety,” the notice said.
Bakken crude oil, from the Upper Great Plains, is extracted from shale rock through hydraulic fracturing, and it has been involved in multiple accidents that resulted in large spills and fires. A July 2013 derailment in Quebec killed 47 people.
Friday’s notice came in response to a letter Aug. 29 from the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association. The trade groups requested that the department withdraw its May 7 emergency order requiring railroads to notify states of cargoes of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil.
The DOT is seeking to make the order permanent. Initially, the railroads asked states to sign agreements that would exempt the information from open records laws, and many complied. Others refused, finding no reason the reports shouldn’t be shared publicly.
Copies of the notifications that news organizations obtained from those states show the counties the shipments traverse, the names of the routes and the approximate number of trains per week that met the department’s reporting threshold.