BNSF Won't Seek Injunction To Stop Release Of Oil Train Info In Washington

Jun 24, 2014
Originally published on June 23, 2014 11:04 am

BNSF Railway says it's not going to court before Monday's deadline to block Washington state from releasing oil train notification information under its public records law.

"BNSF does not intend to file an injunction regarding prospective handling of the information provided," spokeswoman Courtney Wallace wrote in an email Monday. "The determination about how such information is controlled or communicated is ultimately a decision for the federal government and subsequently the Washington State Emergency Response Commission."

The records were filed with Washington’s Military Department earlier this month after an emergency order from the United States Department of Transportation. They contain information about the route, quantity and anticipated weekly traffic of shipments greater than 1 million gallons of crude oil from the Bakken shale fields spanning parts of North Dakota, Montana and Canada.

“We think it is very important that those responsible for security and emergency planning have such information to ensure that proper planning and training are in place for public safety, but we also continue to urge discretion in the wider distribution of specific details,” Wallace said.

After providing the notifications to various states, BNSF and Union Pacific railroads initially sought nondisclosure agreements ensuring the information would not become widely public and would only be shared with state officials and emergency responders.

Several states, including Washington, refused to sign the agreements. Officials in Washington at one point had planned to post the information online, but backtracked after being told by the federal Transportation Department to treat the information as sensitive. The state then decided to require a public records request, after which it would notify railroads and grant them 10 days during which they could seek an injunction to block the release.

The Washington Military Department received more than 100 requests for the information, department spokeswoman Karina Shagren said. The majority of them came through a campaign by the advocacy group Vancouver Action Network, which has also led campaigns to count trains.

If BNSF doesn't file an injunction before the close of business Monday, the state will release the information as public record. Two other railroads filed notifications with the state. Union Pacific informed Washington it does not move enough Bakken crude to meet the reporting threshold. The short line Tacoma Rail carries some Bakken crude between BNSF lines and the Port of Tacoma. It had until Friday to seek an injunction and did not. The state intends to release its notification online Monday afternoon.

In Oregon, the State Emergency Response Commission has yet to decide whether it will agree to the railroad’s request for nondisclosure. The agency is seeking guidance from the state Attorney General’s Office and has not yet provided a timeline for its decision.

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