PORTLAND, Ore. — Two railroads ran a total of three oil train cars per week through Oregon’s most populous county, a disclosure railroad companies fought to keep from public release.
Documents released Thursday also show the rail lines are capable of moving nine trains per day through the state.
The records, which show how much crude oil from the Northern Rockies was carried by train car through Oregon, were released after a monthlong battle over the records between media outlets that requested it and Oregon public officials, who said the material was protected by federal law.
The records show BNSF Railway moved three oil train cars through the county that includes Portland in the first and second week of June, and those cars continued north to Columbia County.
The records were provided to the U.S. Department of Transportation after the agency issued an emergency order requiring railroads to notify state officials about the volume, frequency and county-by-county routes of trains carrying 1 million or more gallons of crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada.
BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the company has taken flak for its transport of oil, but he said the company is merely moving a consumer good that’s in high demand and has no say in what it transports.
“BNSF is a responsible carrier of this bulk product that the marketplace is demanding,” Melonas said. “As a common carrier, (by federal law) we don’t control what we haul, but we control how we haul it.”
Melonas pointed to safety improvements to tracks that cost the company $300 million, and he said the oil is being transported through “isolated” areas.
BNSF was obligated to make the disclosures because it moves more than 1 million gallons of Bakken oil per train through parts of the state.
Two other railroads, Pacific Western and Union Pacific, also responded to the Transportation Department requests. The Pacific Western line takes the three BNSF cars with Bakken crude through Columbia County.
Union Pacific carries oil from regions other than Bakken, exempting it from disclosure [—] though Oregon’s two U.S. senators say all oil carriers should make similar disclosures. The senators also pressed for the 1 million-gallon minimum threshold to be lowered to include smaller shipments.
Questions about oil cars arose in July 2013 after a derailment in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed in a massive conflagration.
Environmental groups have opposed the oil train cars.
“We have serious concerns about oil trains moving through our communities and shipping on the Columbia (River),” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “There’s been very little analysis of the risks.”
The records were distributed to the public in late June in most states. In Oregon, however, the State
Police denied initial requests from media outlets including The Associated Press and the Oregonian, then billed the outlets for the records.
The State Police said in a letter Thursday that the agency changed its mind about charging the media outlets for the records.
The $43 check from the AP will be mailed back to its Portland office.