Texas attorney general orders release of oil train data

McClatchy Washington Bureau | February 21, 2015 | Column by Curtis Tate

Oil train records held by the Texas Department of Public Safety are not subject to exemption under state open records law, the state attorney general ruled this week, and must be released in full to McClatchy and other news organizations.

BNSF crude oil trains meet at Galesburg, Ill., on Aug. 31, 2014. CURTIS TATE — McClatchy  Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2015/02/21/257404/texas-attorney-general-orders.html#storylink=cpy

One railroad had argued that releasing the information to the public would compromise security and customer confidentiality and enable the railroad’s competitors.

In a four-page letter dated Thursday, the attorney general’s office dismissed those arguments and said the state “must release the submitted information.”

A spokeswoman for Kansas City Southern Railway, which had sought to block the release of the information, could not immediately be reached for comment.

McClatchy requested information about crude oil trains from more than 20 states, including Texas, last year in an effort to track the potential dangers from oil shipments, which have skyrocketed from fewer than 10,000 trains in 2008 to more than 500,000 last year as U.S. production of crude oil from fracking boomed.

Railroads initially asked state officials to keep the information confidential and limit its disclosure to local emergency responders, but most of the states ultimately agreed to make the documents public. One notable exception is West Virginia, where a crude oil train derailed and exploded on Monday.

In October, the Federal Railroad Administration issued guidance that the reports, which show the estimated number of trains per week and their routes, was not sensitive to either commercial interests or security. In its letter, the Texas Attorney General’s office agreed that the companies had offered no evidence to support their claims that releasing the information would hurt their business.

“Under review,” Texas assistant attorney general Cristian Rosas-Grillet wrote, “we find (Kansas City Southern) has failed to demonstrate the release of any of its information would result in substantial harm to its competitive position.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation began requiring railroads to report large shipments of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to other states last May, following the derailment of a CSX train in Lynchburg, Va., that resulted in a spill, fire and evacuation. The derailment this week near Mount Carbon, W.Va., also on a CSX rail line, resulted in a fire that burned for four days and kept more than 100 residents out of their homes. All but a few were allowed to return Friday

Records McClatchy obtained from Missouri and Kansas show that Kansas City Southern informed those states it planned to operate one to five oil trains a week between Kansas City, Mo., and Nederland, Texas. A map that accompanied the documents showed that the trains would pass through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

In July, CSX and Norfolk Southern sued the Maryland Department of the Environment to block the release of oil train information the state was planning to release to McClatchy and the Associated Press. A trial is scheduled for April.

Pennsylvania Office of Open Records ordered that state to release its records in October after McClatchy and two Pittsburgh newspapers appealed a state agency’s July decision to withhold them.

Though West Virginia still won’t release its oil train information, it is surrounded by four states – Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania – that did.

Email: ctate@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @tatecurtis

 

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Texas attorney general orders release of oil train data
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE works to promote safe, sustainable energy and environmental justice.  We aim to engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry's assault on the people of Albany and our environment.