NE officials mum on potentially dangerous oil-train shipments

Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

Citing security concerns the State of Nebraska is refusing to make public details surrounding shipments of dangerous and potentially deadly oil-train shipments, despite the federal government’s insistence that security is not an issue.

Rail cars, similar to these rolling through Omaha, are apparently on track to move potentially dangerous shipments of Bakken oil through southeastern Nebraska.

May 7, following a 2013 Canadian derailment/explosion and four crashes and fires in the U. S., the Department of Transportation ordered railroads carrying more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil—35 tank cars—to provide states with detailed routing and volume information allowing local fire and police to better prepare for accidents.

Twelve days later Nebraska Watchdog asked Nebraska’s Emergency Management Agency if Bakken crude was being shipped through the state and if so where.

In a May 19 email NEMA Assistant Director Al Berndt replied, “That question is unknown at this time.” However, Berndt added, “From the route map we have seen, it appears a small portion located within southeastern Nebraska could be affected.”

A short time later railroads including Burlington Northern and Union Pacific (UP is headquartered in Omaha) quickly went on the offensive urging states like Nebraska to keep quiet.

Nebraska Watchdog filed a public records request for additional route information on June 19, five days later the request was turned down.

In a June 24 letter to Nebraska Watchdog, Berndt noted the state has received “information on petroleum crude oil shipments” through Nebraska. Berndt then cited two reasons denying access to the records:

  • “Proprietary or commercial information which if released would give advantage to business competitors and serve no public purpose.”
  • “Information solely pertaining to protection of the security of public property and persons…”

The number two man at the Federal Railroad Administration, Kevin Thompson, tells the Associated Press railroads could have appropriate claims that the information should be kept confidential for business reasons, but said states and railroads would have to work that out.

As for protecting the public, Thompson said the FRA has determined the information is not sensitive.

Montana officials have said they intend to release the oil-train information to the public arguing it will help protect citizens by raising community awareness, AP reports.

In addition, other reports are surfacing that railroads are backing away from their secrecy demands.

In the mid-8o’s a train carrying nuclear waste was ordered stopped at the Nebraska-Kansas border by then Gov. Bob Kerrey.

Kerrey complained the federal government had failed to notify the state that two flatbed cars of nuclear waste from the damaged reactor at Three Mile Island would enter the southeast corner of Nebraska on its way to Idaho.

Once state officials were briefed on the shipment the train was allowed in Nebraska for a nine-hour trip across the state.

Contact Joe Jordan at joe@nebraskawatchdog.org.

Joe can be heard on Omaha’s KFAB radio every Monday at 7:40 a.m. and KHAS-AM in Hastings every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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