Pennsylvania crude oil train data still not going to right officials

McClatchy Washington BureauAugust 12, 2014 


Recently filled, a tanker truck drives past railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands just outside the city limits of Sacramento, Calif. (Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/MCT)


At least four Pennsylvania counties along the path of frequent crude oil train movements have had difficulty obtaining information about the shipments, in spite of a federal order that was supposed to help local emergency responders.

Cambria County, east of Pittsburgh, and Lebanon County, east of Harrisburg, said last week that they had not received data on how many crude oil trains were coming through their communities.

On Tuesday, two more counties, Westmoreland and Delaware, reported that they had received no notifications.

Westmoreland County was the site of a February derailment that spilled 10,000 gallons of crude oil. Delaware County is the site of a new crude oil train terminal that was the subject of a state House of Representatives hearing in March.

Ruth Miller, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for disseminating the information to local emergency managers, said Monday that the agency had, in fact, sent reports to counties that had requested it.

But Tuesday, it appeared that the notifications were still falling through the cracks.

Ron Springer, executive director of the Cambria County Department of Emergency Services, said Tuesday that he hadn’t seen anything from the state agency yet, but expected to within a day.

Jamie Wolgemuth, Lebanon County’s commissioner, said the documents were received, but “went unnoticed” by the director and deputy director of the county’s emergency management agency.

The notifications were required under a May U.S. Department of Transportation emergency order following a series of derailments, fires and spills involving trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region.

The notices give estimates of weekly rail shipments of Bakken crude exceeding 1 million gallons, and can help local fire departments determine whether they need additional training and equipment in case of a derailment.

Pennsylvania is a major destination for Bakken crude shipments by rail, but it’s difficult to tell if county emergency managers are getting information about the crude oil trains. The state has denied open records requests by McClatchy and other news organizations to examine the notifications.

Kevin Thompson, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, said that his agency’s jurisdiction doesn’t extend to the states, so federal regulators aren’t monitoring whether local first responders are receiving the information.

However, Thompson noted that railroads hauling Bakken crude were complying with the order and reporting the required information to states.

Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern and CSX, the railroads that haul Bakken crude through Pennsylvania, have made training courses available to first responders throughout the state.

Norfolk Southern sponsored 40 participants in a July training course in Pueblo, Colo. The railroad plans to offer training to a total of 126 first responders this year.

Rival CSX sponsored 12 participants in a July class, and plans to train 80 more.

Both railroads said that local departments that want the training can request a spot.

“We’ll endeavor to do our best to make sure the first responder agencies that want this training will receive it,” said Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern.

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