Secret is out: Potentially dangerous oil train shipments roll through NE weekly

By Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

Nearly half a million folks in 11 eastern Nebraska counties now know what top state officials have known for several months: millions of gallons of dangerous and potentially deadly oil train shipments are traveling through their backyards every week.

Bakken oil rolls through 11 Nebraska counties: Dakota, Thurston, Burt, Dodge, Saunders, Cass, Lancaster, Gage, Johnson, Pawnee and Richardson

In an unexpected about face, state officials Tuesday released what they previously said was highly sensitive security information.

Those security concerns—including the state’s decision refusing a Nebraska Watchdog public records route request— were sounded earlier this year despite the federal government’s insistence that public safety would not be compromised.

On May 7, following a 2013 Canadian derailment and 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.

Photo by Nebraska Watchdog

Train cars similar to these are hauling some three million gallons of potentially dangerous crude oil through the state each week.

A few days later Nebraska’s Emergency Management Agency told Nebraska Watchdog it appeared a “small portion within southeastern Nebraska could be affected” but any further information was stymied as NEMA cried “security concerns” and the Burlington Northern Sante Fe claimed keeping the information secret was essential to their business operations and urging states like Nebraska to keep quiet.

Now, according to a letter to the Wall Street Journal from Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, BNSF has dropped its “proprietary” claim. At the same time NEMA is dropping its security concerns allowing the route information to be made public.

Here’s what NEMA is telling us:

  • The 11 counties are Dakota, Thurston, Burt, Dodge, Saunders, Cass, Lancaster, Gage, Johnson, Pawnee and Richardson.
  • Initial reports from BNSF indicate that an average of three freight trains per week, each carrying at least one million gallons of Bakken crude oil, have made the trip.
  • Emergency plans are in place at the state and local levels.

Nebraska has been slow to get on board.

Months ago Montana officials argued releasing the oil train information to the public would help protect citizens by raising community awareness.

Contact Joe Jordan at joe@nebraskawatchdog.org.

Joe can be heard on Omaha’s KFAB radio every Monday morning at 7:40, KLIN in Lincoln every Tuesday morning at 7:35 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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