Pennsylvania officials have refused to disclose information that freight railroads provide about shipments of volatile crude oil through the state.
In the wake of several fiery accidents, the U.S. Department of Transportation in May issued an emergency order requiring railroads to report to state emergency management officials the number of trains carrying oil from the Bakken Shale formation in the Midwest and the routes of the shipments.
The order required the railroads to provide an estimate of the number of trains passing through each county per week that carry 1 million gallons or more in Bakken crude and the routes used, among other information.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency last week denied the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's request for copies of the railroad reports, saying they were "confidential and proprietary," even though federal officials have said no reason exists to withhold the information.
In June, Kevin Thompson, associate administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the railroad reports were not sensitive information that needed to be withheld for security reasons, according to The Associated Press. Subsequently, at least six states -- Washington, North Dakota, California, Montana, Florida and Virginia -- have made the reports public.
An exhibit CSX railroad provided to Virginia's Department of Emergency Management shows a crude oil route going through Pittsburgh, Connellsville and Meyersdale on its way to Philadelphia.
CSX and Norfolk Southern are believed to send crude oil shipments through Pittsburgh on a regular basis. Trains with 80 or more tanker cars bearing the hazardous materials placard for Bakken crude have been seen moving through Station Square, along Route 28 and on the tracks that cross the Allegheny River near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
On April 30, a train carrying 3 million gallons of Bakken crude derailed in Lynchburg, Va., causing a fire and spilling oil into the James River.
In February, 21 cars of a Norfolk Southern Railway freight train carrying crude oil barreled off the tracks on a curve in Vandergrift, many of the tankers tumbling onto their sides. No one was hurt, and the thick oil that leaked from three of the derailed cars was contained before it could enter drains or the nearby Kiskiminetas River.
In January, seven cars of a 101-car train left the tracks on a bridge over the Schuylkill River and the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, forcing closure of the busy highway for a time. The incident left an oil tanker and boxcar leaning sideways over the side of the bridge. CSX Railroad said six of the seven derailed cars were carrying crude oil.
On Dec. 30, an oil train collided with a derailed car from another train outside Casselton, N.D. The crash spilled more than 400,000 gallons of oil, generated a fireball and forced the evacuation of 1,400 people within a 5-mile radius.
In November, an oil train derailed in rural Alabama and burst into flames that took several days to extinguish.
Last July, a runaway oil train exploded in Canada, killing 47 people in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
The Kansas City Star reported in January that more crude oil was spilled in U.S. train incidents last year than in the nearly 40 years that preceded it. Using data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the newspaper said more than 1.15 million gallons were spilled in 2013, compared with 800,000 gallons spilled for the years 1975-2012.
CSX has declined to give details about how much crude oil it ships through Pittsburgh, saying specific information about shipments of regulated materials is given only to emergency response agencies who request it. Norfolk Southern has said it does not comment about the routing of specific commodities.
Allegheny County officials have confirmed that crude oil is on a list of chemicals that railroads carry through Pittsburgh but declined to elaborate.
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1868 or on Twitter @pgtraffic.