Economy

Pennsylvania releases crude oil train reports

Philadelphia’s 25th Street Viaduct where two or three loaded crude oil trains pass over it every day, bound for Philadelphia Energy Solutions, a sprawling refinery complex that’s now the largest single consumer of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota.
Philadelphia’s 25th Street Viaduct where two or three loaded crude oil trains pass over it every day, bound for Philadelphia Energy Solutions, a sprawling refinery complex that’s now the largest single consumer of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota. MCT

As many as 60 trains a week carry large volumes of Bakken crude oil cross Pennsylvania, according to documents released Wedensday by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

That makes the Keystone State the largest single destination on the East Coast for the oil shipments from North Dakota. The Bakken oil saved Philadelphia-area refineries from closure, but it also raised questions about whether the communities the trains pass through could respond to derailments that resulted in large fires and spills.

The documents were made available five days after the state open records office reversed a July decision by the emergency management agency to deny requests from McClatchy and two Pennsylvania newspapers.

Significantly, the documents from CSX and Norfolk Southern also reveal partial details of their oil train operations in Maryland. The railroads sued the state in July to block the release of those reports.

While Norfolk Southern spokesman Dave Pidgeon said the company “respectfully disagrees” with the decision to release the information, it would continue to work with “the appropriate emergency responders and emergency planners in the communities through which our trains operate.”

The Pennsylvania cities affected include the state’s largest and smallest. As many as 55 trains a week arrive in the state’s largest city, Philadelphia, on both railroads. As many as 30 trains a week pass through Pittsburgh and 25 through Harrisburg, the state capital.

The state emergency management agency posted the reports Wednesday on its website.

The U.S. Department of Transportation required railroads in May to report shipments of Bakken crude oil exceeding 1 million gallons to state emergency managers after a series of high-profile accidents. The worst, in July 2013, killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Pennsylvania experienced two crude-oil related incidents this year, though none fatal. In January, a CSX crude oil train derailed on a bridge over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. None of the cargo spilled.

In February, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in Vandergrift, Pa., near Pittsburgh. Almost 10,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from five tank cars.

These derailments and others prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to take steps to improve the safety of shipments of flammable liquids by rail. Those measures include stronger tank cars, safer operating practices and lower speeds in densely populated areas.

After federal regulators began requiring the crude oil notifications, railroads asked states to sign agreements that would shield the information from public disclosure. Some states, including Pennsylvania, complied, while others refused.

On Friday, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records rejected the claims made by the state emergency management agency and the railroads that public release of the information would harm security and business. Also Friday, the Federal Railroad Administration affirmed that the crude oil reports were not protected by federal law from disclosure.

The Pennsylvania reports show crude oil train routes in Maryland, West Virginia and Delaware, three states that signed the confidentiality agreements with the two railroads. West Virginia and Delaware both denied McClatchy requests for the crude oil reports.

After the Maryland attorney general’s office voided that state’s confidentiality agreements, Norfolk Southern and CSX took legal action to block the release of the reports to McClatchy and the Associated Press.

Pidgeon, the Norfolk Southern spokesman, said the Pennsylvania decision wouldn’t change anything in Maryland.

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