Thursday, August 21, 2014

Public Data Reveal Secret Rail Movements of Crude Oil

An oil train moves south of St. Paul on July 25

 Photograph by Connor Lake/The Star Tribune via AP Photo
Business Week 

It’s been almost four months since the Obama Administration ordered railroads to start giving state emergency officials details about their shipments of crude oil. The idea was that since these trains have a tendency to explode, and since they’re often rolling right through the middle of towns and cities, the least they could do would be to tell local firefighters when they’re coming. Not that municipal departments necessarily have the tools or resources to deal with 400-foot fireballs—but hey, knowing’s half the battle. Right, kids?

The railroads immediately tried to get states to sign nondisclosure agreements, arguing that information detailing the movements of oil trains is dangerous and needs to be kept out of the hands of terrorists. Some states agreed to sign the nondisclosure documents (Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana), but a lot didn’t. Washington, California, and Wisconsin all refused, citing state sunshine laws that prohibit them from keeping public data secret.

Though some local officials say they’re still having a hard time getting the data, enough of the info is being collected and released to the public to piece together some details on where these trains are headed....[snip]

.... One environmental group, Forest Ethics, has used the data to figure out how many people are “in the blast zone” and at risk of exploding oil trains. The answer: 25 million. This week, Genscape, an oil surveillance business, released a white paper detailing the volumes of crude being railed around some of the most crowded corridors......  read more here

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