Exclusive: North Dakota Oil-By-Rail Routes Published for First Time
For the first time, DeSmogBlog has published dozens of documents obtained from the North Dakota government revealing routes and chemical composition data for oil-by-rail trains in the state carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale.
The information was initially submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) under the legal dictates of a May 7 Emergency Order, which both the federal government and the rail industry initially argued should only be released to those with a “need-to-know” and not the public at-large.
North Dakota’s Department of Emergency Services, working in consultation with the North Dakota Office of the Attorney General, made the documents public a couple weeks after DeSmogBlog filed a June 13 North Dakota Public Records Statute request.
“There is no legal basis to protect what they have provided us at this point,” North Dakota assistant attorney general Mary Kae Kelsch said during the June 25 Department of Emergency Service’s quarterly meeting, which DeSmogBlog attended via phone. “It doesn’t meet any criteria for our state law to protect this.”
Initially, oil-by-rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and other rail companies sent boilerplate letters — one copy of which has been obtained by DeSmogBlog from the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security through the state’s Public Records Act — to several State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), arguing train routes should be kept confidential.
BNSF also sent several SERCs a boilerplate contract proposal, requesting that they exempt the information rail companies were compelled to submit to the SERCs under the DOT Emergency Order from release under Freedom of Information Act. A snippet of the proposed contract can be seen below:
Dan Wilz, homeland security division director and state security advisor of the Department of Emergency Services, said the claims did not hold legal water.
“Joe can stand on a street corner and figure that out within a week’s period,” Wilz said at the quarterly meeting. “They watch the trains go through their community each and every day.”
CP Rail: 7 Trains/Week, “Highly Flammable”
In its submission to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, CP Rail revealed it sent seven oil-by-rail trains through 13 counties in North Dakota the week of June 9-15. CP Rail also estimated it generally sends 2-5 trains through those same counties during an average week.
Some oil-by-rail trains, dubbed “bomb trains” by some due to their propensity to explode, carry over 2,677,500 gallons of fracked oil. The trains are often over a mile in length and contain over 100 cars.
The company also released information on the chemical composition of the Bakken oil it sends on its rail cars, conceding that Bakken oil is “highly flammable” and “easily ignited by heat, sparks or flames.”
Further, CP Rail admitted that Bakken oil has “a very low flash point” and that “water spray when fighting [its] fire may be inefficient.”
BNSF: Bakken Oil-By-Rail King
BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett — a major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012 and one of the richest men on the planet — is widely considered the king of oil-by-rail in the U.S. The documents BNSF released to the Department of Emergency Services back up the notion.