Nebraska Releases Oil-By-Rail Shipping Information

A BNSF engine pulls a long string of tanker cars through Tecumseh, Nebraska (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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September 30, 2014 - 5:27pm

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency Tuesday disclosed information on shipments via rail of volatile crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota through the state.


Until Tuesday, Nebraska, unlike neighboring Iowa and Missouri, kept information on shipments of Bakken oil by rail confidential. But now, the information has been made public. It shows that an average of three trains a week carrying more than a million gallons of Bakken crude travel north to south through the state. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains enter from Iowa at South Sioux City, pass through Fremont and Lincoln, and exit to Missouri at Rulo.

These are the counties in Nebraska that trains carrying Bakken oil pass through. (Graphic by Scott Beachler, NET)

The trains travel through 11 counties in eastern Nebraska:  Dakota, Thurston, Burt, Dodge, Saunders, Cass, Lancaster, Gage, Johnson, Pawnee and Richardson.

Bryan Tuma, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, said federal government safety regulations are shifting, and there are legal considerations as well.

“We felt as though there was enough momentum at the federal level, the national level, and that we wanted to -- ultimately we thought it was in our best interest to release the information. The other aspect of this is if we were challenged to continue to withhold the information, quite honestly we didn’t think it would withstand a test in court,” Tuma said.

Nebraska had cited two grounds for withholding the information from the public: first, the railroad’s objections to releasing confidential business information, and second, security. In a letter accompanying the newly released information, Nebraska Assistant Attorney General Leslie Donley wrote the railroad had dropped its confidentiality request. And Donley wrote that the NEMA had decided not to use security as a reason for withholding information, even if it could legally do so.

Tuma said federal efforts are underway to require better construction of tank cars to prevent situations like a derailment in Quebec last year that led to a fire and explosion that killed 47 people. While many hazardous materials pass through the state every day, Tuma said a train carrying Bakken crude definitely poses a risk.

“If it were to derail, you might have a really very serious situation on hand because the material is so volatile and toxic. So I think there’s a number of those types of issues that are going to be resolved, resulting in increased safety measures, which I think is ultimately what we want to see,” Tuma said.

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