Oil train info not exempt from freedom of information law

Times Union | July 11, 2014 | Column by Eric Anderson

State's homeland security chief turns back bid for secrecy about shipments


The state's top homeland security official on Friday rebuffed two railroads' efforts to keep information on Bakken crude oil shipments secret.

Jerome M. Hauer, commissioner of the state Division of Homeland Security, said in a statement the state determined that information it must provide under a federal emergency order issued May 7 "does not necessitate additional information security measures to ensure the protection of public safety."

He said the information, which includes estimates on the volume of Bakken crude and the frequency of train traffic carrying the crude, "is not sensitive security information ... and must be made available to the public through the FOIL process."

CSX Transportation had sought to have state officials agree to a nondisclosure agreement that would have kept the information private, while Canadian Pacific Railway had included a confidentiality notification with the information it supplied that said it was intended for emergency responders and emergency response planners.

Canadian Pacific on Friday said it would have no comment on Hauer's decision.

CSX issued the following statement: "CSX provided the information required in compliance with the May 7, 2014, emergency order, and asked for confidentiality consistent with U.S. Department of Transportation guidance on the basis that the information we provided was security sensitive and proprietary to our customers."

Bakken crude, with dissolved gases and other flammable components, has proven to be more volatile than traditional crude.

Several train derailments that caused explosions and fires have led to calls for more safety oversight and the rerouting and outright banning of what some have called "bomb trains" from urban areas.

The derailment and explosion of a runaway Bakken crude train last July 6 in Lac Megantic, Quebec, killed 47 people and incinerated much of the community's downtown.

The crude, hydrofracked from the Bakken field of North Dakota, is being shipped mainly by rail to refineries on both coasts.

The Port of Albany, with its tank farms and adjacent railyards, has become a major trans-shipment point for the crude, which is then moved by barge, tanker or rail to refineries up and down the East Coast.

Tank cars are parked on sidings as close as 25 feet from apartments at the Ezra Prentice Homes in Albany.

One organization, People of Albany United for Safe Energy, or PAUSE, has opposed the growing oil traffic at the port and has sought more information about the shipments.

On Friday, a spokeswoman for the group welcomed Hauer's decision.

"They've reached the appropriate conclusion," said Sandy Steubing of PAUSE. "I don't know why it was debatable.

"I was disappointed there was even any consideration to keep it private," she added. "I was dismayed the governor didn't weigh in publicly on this in defending the public's right to know."

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.