Lincoln Journal Star Editorial – End of secrecy on oil trains


Source: Lincoln Journal Star

Better late than never when it comes to state government’s decision to release information on shipments of crude oil through Nebraska.
The refusal to divulge that information to residents at risk from the shipments was a high-profile example of the unfortunate tendency of government officials in Nebraska to kowtow to corporate interests.
Other states chose to inform their residents about the shipments, but Nebraska officials decided to heed the request by BNSF that the information be turned over only to certain public safety agencies on a confidential basis.
So Nebraska residents were basically kept in the dark on the number of oil tank cars rolling through their communities carrying volatile crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.
Sad to say, the change in state policy cannot be attributed to a new-found concern for the public good.
State officials decided to release the information after BNSF officials abandoned their claim that the information was commercially proprietary, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency told the attorney general’s office.
Many states had already released the information months earlier.
Now, finally, Lincoln residents know that more than 100 tank cars carrying volatile crude from the Bakken oil fields come through Lincoln every week. The BNSF route runs through Havelock, along Cornhusker Highway, past the Pinnacle Bank Arena and close to Wilderness Park.
The cars also roll through South Sioux City, Oakland, Fremont, Ashland, Waverly, Hickman, Firth, Adams, Tecumseh, Table Rock and Falls City, according to BNSF’s system map.
As the Journal Star editorial board said months ago, the public has a right to know about the shipments because “disaster is only a loose crosstie away when oil tank cars coming rolling down the track.”
The number of trains carrying crude oil has soared with the boom in shale oil development in North America.
The number of accidents involving the cars also has been rising. An accident involving an unattended train in Quebec killed 47 people last year. A huge fireball exploded over Lynchburg, Virginia, earlier this year when 15 cars derailed. Fortunately no one was injured.
BNSF said last year that it plans to purchase more than 5,000 new tank cars with a safer design than the older models now being used.
The new tank cars will help make rail transport of crude oil safer. So will the public scrutiny that comes with the release of information on the oil tank cars that rumble through Nebraska communities on a regular basis.