At least one train rolled through Bend with a large load of oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region last month, according to documents the Office of State Fire Marshal released Thursday.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train that rumbled along the Lower Deschutes River and through Central Oregon toward California sometime between May 29 and June 4 carried a minimum of 1 million gallons of oil, the equivalent of approximately 35 tank cars. The reports provide only a partial picture of oil-by-rail traffic, because they do not include other types of oil and they do not list shipments of less than 1 million gallons. Also, the reports do not reveal the actual amount of oil, so it is unclear how many cars the train pulled.
Railways must provide information on the routes of large train shipments of volatile Bakken oil to state emergency responders, under an emergency order issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation in May.
Oregon officials released the reports Thursday in response to public records requests from several media outlets, including The Bulletin. Rich Hoover, community liaison for the State Fire Marshal’s Office, said Thursday an environmental group also requested the reports.
Hoover said he plans to post the reports on the fire marshal’s website, perhaps next week. The state might not receive reports on every large Bakken oil train, because Hoover said the federal order requires railways to provide information only when there is a 25 percent increase or decrease from the previous volume transported through an area.
Railways had asked the state to share the Bakken shipment information only with first responders and not release it to the public. A BNSF spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Most of the large oil trains reported last month moved through the Portland metropolitan area and Columbia River Gorge. During the week of May 29 through June 4, three BNSF trains with at least 1 million gallons of Bakken crude traveled through Multnomah County. The company reported no trains with that much oil in Deschutes, Wasco, Jefferson and Umatilla counties the week of June 5 through June 11; one large oil train traveled through Klamath County that week. There were also three large Bakken oil-by-rail shipments through Multnomah County that week, the last week of information BNSF reported to the state.
Union Pacific railroad reported it did not have any trains that met the 1 million-gallon threshold in Oregon. The Portland and Western Railroad reported that in general, it expected three trains per week would meet the reporting requirement, through Multnomah and Columbia counties.
The number of tank cars transporting oil through Central Oregon increased by 58 percent from 2011 to 2013, according to information the Oregon Department of Transportation released to The Bulletin in early May. In 2013, BNSF transported more than 4,300 tanker cars of crude oil through the region, approximately 23 percent of the more than 19,000 carloads of oil that trains carried through the state last year.
Bend City Councilor Sally Russell, who has raised concerns about oil train traffic through the region, said Thursday that Bend is just one of many communities where people are concerned about oil-by-rail shipments but still lack complete information about the traffic.
“As awareness is rising, the concerns about safety are increasing as well,” Russell said.
Russell is not the only city official frustrated by the lack of complete information about oil trains in the region. In late May, Bill Boos, deputy chief of fire operations for the Bend Fire Department, said BNSF did not provide information about shipments of oil and other hazardous materials until the day that Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., was scheduled to meet with local first responders. Wyden said at the meeting it should not require a visit from a U.S. senator for the railways to share that information. Boos could not be reached for comment on the latest reports Thursday.
Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore ., also called in June for federal officials to require railways to share more information about oil shipments, in a more timely manner, with emergency responders. The senators pointed out the limited scope of the emergency order issued in May. So far, the Department of Transportation has not broadened the order.
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