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North Dakota discloses oil train shipment details

Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- Dozens of mile-long trains loaded with crude are leaving western North Dakota each week, with most shipments going through the state's most populous county while en route to refineries across the country.

The U.S. Department of Transportation ordered railroads last month to give state officials specifics on oil train routes and volumes so emergency responders can better prepare for accidents. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said a pattern of fiery accidents involving trains carrying crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana had created an "imminent hazard" to public safety.

Most notable of those was an oil train derailment last July in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people.

Railroads that fail to comply with the order are subject to a $175,000 fine per day and are prohibited from hauling oil from the Bakken region until they do so.

Officials in Montana, California and Florida also released information on oil trains Wednesday in response to requests from The Associated Press.

CSX Corp., Union Pacific and BNSF Railway sought to prevent states from turning over the information, saying details on the shipments are security sensitive. But officials in North Dakota and some other states refused, citing public records laws.

"There is no legal basis to protect what they have provided us at this point," North Dakota assistant attorney general Mary Kae Kelsch said. "It doesn't meet any criteria for our state law to protect this."

Federal officials have said the notifications required of railroads under Foxx's order are not security sensitive but may include proprietary details that should be kept confidential.

North Dakota's State Emergency Response Commission unanimously voted to release the state's information Wednesday.

Homeland Security Director Greg Wilz, who chairs the 18-member emergency panel, said "it doesn't take a rocket scientist" to figure out how many oil trains are running through communities in the state, the nation's No. 2 oil producer behind Texas. He said release of the data won't come as a surprise to most residents.

"Joe can stand on a street corner and figure that out within a week's period," Wilz said. "They watch the trains go through their community each and every day."

Trains, each pulling more than 100 cars laden with about 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude, began running in 2008 when the state first reached its shipping capacity with existing pipelines and infrastructure. More than 70 percent of the more than 1 million barrels of oil produced daily from the Bakken region is being moved by rail, as producers increasingly have turned to trains to reach U.S. refineries not served by pipelines and where premium prices are fetched.

Railroads hauling Bakken crude in North Dakota - BNSF, Canadian Pacific Railway and Northern Plains, a regional short-line railroad - were ordered to submit information to the state. Data show that the three railroads combined are moving crude through about 30 of North Dakota's 53 counties, including through the state's biggest cities of Fargo and Bismarck.

Fargo is in Cass County, where BNSF says it has been averaging more than 40 oil trains a week this month.

Among other states, documents from Montana showed that BNSF oil trains have passed through 30 of the state's 56 counties. Roosevelt County topped the list, with 20 trains in one week.

In California, documents provided by the state's Office of Emergency Service showed as many as nine BNSF trains in a week through nine counties. In other weeks, just one BNSF train or none at all traveled through the state. Comparable details on Union Pacific's operations in California were not yet available.

Florida's documents showed three trains per week passing through Escambia County on the Alabama border, en route to a transfer station in Walnut Grove.

BNSF, a unit of billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., hauls about 75 percent of the oil that leaves the Bakken by train, North Dakota officials said.

Some states have signed confidentiality agreements or otherwise pledged not to release the information, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.


Brown reported from Billings, Mont. Josh Funk in Omaha, Neb., and Gosia Wozniacka in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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sullairman June 26 2014 at 6:45 AM

If the Obama administration would let us bnuild the pipelines, we could safely move all of thei oil more cheaply to the refineries with less possible hazards to the environment and the people who live along the right of ways.

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13 replies
chall6pk June 26 2014 at 7:55 AM

Yeah Obama..stop the country from even moving....while you're at it raise the price of oil and electricity and shut down coal production...just print more food stamps and give out cell phones

Flag Reply +31 rate up
5 replies
MARTHA & PERRY June 26 2014 at 8:55 AM

they keep telling us how the problem in Iraq will increase what we pay for gas here. but then they turn around and export the oil from north Dakota to foreign countries. typical screw the American mentality.

Flag Reply +18 rate up
3 replies
rb June 26 2014 at 8:01 AM

If Obama and his inept advisors would get off their asses and recommend approval of the pipeline this would not become an ongoing issue. If Obama can't see the forest thru the trees, the railroad should lay new track in place of the pipeline and just train it south.

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5 replies
Cummings Stiles June 26 2014 at 8:59 AM

So when will Obama allow the pipeline project to start. Pipelines have been moving oil for years with very few incidents

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4 replies
Randy June 26 2014 at 9:53 AM

Gee... I think Warren Buffett can afford the fines... and its because of his pressure on the EMPTY SUIT PUPPET of the south side Chicago thug squad the Keystone Pipleline has not been approved for construction.... and then there are the wacked out eco-terrorists who pull the strings of the EPA who have prevented any new refineries being approved to be built since the inept Carter debacle.

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Jim June 26 2014 at 8:30 AM

This phenomenon is not limited to Bakken petroleum. If the Canadian tar sands petroleum does not move to the Gulph refineries by pipeline, the petroleum will move (and does move now) from the tar sands by rail. And who owns the railroad that will carry the tar sands petroleum? Our President's good friend, Warren Buffet.

Flag Reply +10 rate up
1 reply
bpante Jim June 26 2014 at 8:17 PM

Canada is now going to pipe it to the west coast and sell it to China.

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Greenie June 26 2014 at 6:58 AM

Now you know why the price of gas keeps going up.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
2 replies
hellyon3too Greenie June 26 2014 at 7:35 AM

I know why the price of gas keeps going up, and this has nothing to do with it.

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3 replies
Tommy Greenie June 26 2014 at 8:21 AM

Price is based on political need and profiteering. Example: Nixon raising prices to fund dealings with the Shah of Iran and nation/kingdom building in his country in exchange for an eye on the USSR. The backlash can be seen in their present form of tyrannical government. No, it isn't why you think, since truth be known, more oil was "exported" for profit FROM the US than from Saudi Arabia last year.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
lakota6020 June 26 2014 at 9:41 AM

Obama's mega rich friend , Buffet, put a halt to the pipeline so that his trains can carry the oil and makes billions. Why are we selling our oil to China and having to pay double for mid-east oil. Fuel prices are up and getting higher just because of Iraq.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
1 reply
bill_jones86 lakota6020 June 26 2014 at 2:42 PM

every time that bozo in the WH opens his mouth the speculators raise prices. its one giant screw job to the people unless ur a rich left wing lib green type

Flag Reply 0 rate up
whca1 June 26 2014 at 9:57 AM

Berkshire Hathaway...That right there is why Obama isn't signing the Keystone Pipeline authorization. $$$ to BNSF = Warren Buffet.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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