Oil train info raises confidentiality conflicts

 

 

MPR file /Ann Arbor Miller

A federal order requiring railroads to provide detailed information to states about trainloads of oil shipped from North Dakota takes effect at midnight Saturday.

Railroads want states to keep the information private. Some states, including North Dakota, have not signed the confidentiality agreement.

Minnesota will keep the information confidential.  The Minnesota Department of Homeland Security provided this statement.

Three of four rail companies with trains traveling through Minnesota are complying with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Emergency Order issued May 7.

  • Union Pacific (UP) and Canadian National (CN) reported that they do not meet the criteria of the federal order.
  • Canadian Pacific (CP) has provided information in compliance with the DOT order.
  • As of 4:30 p.m. on June 6, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) has yet to provide information in compliance with the DOT order.

 The information will be posted on a secure website that can only be accessed by authorized individuals, including local fire, police, and emergency management officials.

The deadline to provide the information is midnight on June 7th.

Railroads must disclose route details, how much oil is on the train and emergency response information. Railroad officials say public release of the information could compromise security and put the railroads at a competitive disadvantage.

The Associated Press reported that railroads might stop providing the information if states don’t sign a  confidentiality agreement.

A BNSF spokeswoman said the railroad company will turn over information to states and will trust them to treat the data as confidential and provide it only to those with a “need to know” and with the understanding that those who receive it will continue to treat it as confidential.”

“It is important to remember that the intent of the Emergency Order is to ensure first responders have access to necessary information so they can prepare their response plans,” BNSF’s Roxanne Butler said in a statement.

More than 110,000 carloads of crude oil moved by rail in the first three months of 2014 according to the Association of American Railroads, much of that is volatile crude from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields.

The federal order covers crude oil from the Bakken formation and some oil from Canada.  The Bakken crude is more volatile according to federal officials and contains more flammable gases than other crude oil.

Several trains carrying Bakken crude have derailed and exploded, including one near Casselton, North Dakota late last year and an explosion and fire in Quebec which killed 47 people.