Oklahoma Agrees to Keep Oil Train Shipments Secret

  • Joe Wertz
Flames and smoke are seen in an May 2014 oil-train derailment along Virginia's James River.

Waterkeeperalliance / Flickr

Flames and smoke are seen in an May 2014 oil-train derailment along Virginia's James River.

Surging oil production in states like North Dakota has outpaced pipeline capacity, and the energy industry has turned to railroads to transport oil from fields to refineries.

But several high-profile oil-train accidents — including Canada’s explosive Lac-Mégantic 2013 derailment that killed 47, and other accidents in Alberta, Alabama and Virginia — have raised questions about the safety of shipping crude oil on trains.

The federal government has ordered railroads to share more information about some crude oil shipments with state authorities, but Oklahoma officials won’t share that information with regular citizens, The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

After an inquiry about the Bakken rail shipment reports, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said the commission entered into confidentiality agreements with railroads under guidance from the federal Department of Transportation.

Oklahoma is a major oil hub, and train shipments of crude oil traverse the state en route from North-central U.S. oilfields to refineries along Texas’ Gulf Coast. In May, the federal government ordered railroads to share more information with state authorities about crude shipments from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, which might be more flammable than other types of crude.

Oklahoma’s DEQ said “information relating to terrorism” exempts the information from Oklahoma’s Open Records Act, Monies reports, but other states, including Washington, have made the information public.

In its letter to Washington officials, BNSF Railroad Co. said the information should be shared only on a “need-to-know” basis. The data the railroad provided showed weekly summary information on Bakken oil shipments by county, not detailed train schedules or cargo manifests.

Several other states, including California, New Jersey, Minnesota and Colorado, have chosen to keep the information confidential in accordance with the requests of some railroad companies.