Two counties in Pennsylvania that hug rail lines used to transport large volumes of crude oil have not been notified about the cargo, in spite of a May requirement from the U.S. Department of Transportation that states share that information with local first responders.
Cambria County, east of Pittsburgh, and Lebanon County, just east of Harrisburg, told McClatchy this week they were not receiving the notifications, even though the Norfolk Southern lines that run through the counties are used to bring crude oil trains to refineries and terminals in the Philadelphia area.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency requires county emergency management officials to sign a nondisclosure agreement that limits the sharing of the crude oil train information with first responders.
The Transportation Department emergency order was intended to provide better information to fire departments and hazardous materials teams in the event of a crude oil train derailment. However, it appears that not all first responders are getting the information.
Lebanon County said in a letter Friday that a county official had signed the nondisclosure agreement on June 16 and returned it to the state emergency management agency. But the county has not received any notifications.
Pennsylvania has declined open records requests from McClatchy and other news organizations for the information, although several other states have made similar notifications available.
While it’s not clear precisely how much Bakken crude oil moves across Pennsylvania, much of it is moving via Norfolk Southern’s main lines in the state, parts of which are in Cambria and Lebanon counties.
On Monday, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Amtrak reported that two loaded and two empty Bakken trains per day operate over a portion of one of its lines east of Harrisburg.
That disclosure was only possible because Amtrak owns and controls a very small number of lines in the Northeast and Midwest. Everywhere else, its trains operate over tracks owned and controlled by freight railroads.
The U.S. Transportation Department issued the emergency order May 7, a week after the derailment of a CSX crude oil train in Lynchburg, Va., which resulted in a large release of Bakken crude.
The order requires railroads to notify state emergency management agencies about shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude within their borders, or about 35 loaded tank cars.
Initially, railroads asked states to sign confidentiality agreements, citing concerns about security and competition. But several states refused, saying such agreements would run contrary to their open records laws.
Kevin Thompson, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, said the agency still prefers that states keep the information confidential.
But Thompson added that the information is not considered security sensitive, and he said that each state has discretion about what to release based on its own laws.
Tom Leiden, the solicitor of Cambria County, which includes Johnstown, said he hadn’t seen the state confidentiality agreement, nor did he know whether a county official had signed it.
Still, he said, he would like to receive the notifications.
“Cambria County would want to know,” he said.