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State Keeps Crude Oil Shipment Information From Public

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Months ago, 6 Investigates told us about trains moving through Green Country, carrying a potentially explosive type of crude oil. Months ago, 6 Investigates told us about trains moving through Green Country, carrying a potentially explosive type of crude oil.
Department of Transportation statistics reveal 131 derailments in our state since 2011. There have been 10 derailments in Oklahoma so far this year. 22 percent of all derailments since 2011 were in Tulsa County. Department of Transportation statistics reveal 131 derailments in our state since 2011. There have been 10 derailments in Oklahoma so far this year. 22 percent of all derailments since 2011 were in Tulsa County.
We may never know exactly when those trains carrying potentially explosive oil are traveling through our communities. We may never know exactly when those trains carrying potentially explosive oil are traveling through our communities.
TULSA, Oklahoma - Months ago, 6 Investigates told us about trains moving through Green Country, carrying a potentially explosive type of crude oil. Since then the Feds have gotten involved, changing regulations, trying to prevent disastrous derailments.

The U.S. Department of Transportation now requires railroad companies to give first responders a heads up when trains carrying this type of crude roll through their communities. Many states have released that information to the public for safety reasons, but not Oklahoma.

Linda Atkins said that’s a problem. She lives near the Broken Arrow expressway and the railroad tracks that run along-side it. She contacted us, frightened by recent derailments, questioning the integrity of the tracks nearest her home.

"The whole thing is just rusted," said Atkins.

Atkins worries flaws in the tracks will cause a derailment; one that could be disastrous, like the derailment and explosion in Quebec, Canada, that killed 47 people. According to industry reports the highly combustible oil that exploded in that incident, and others like it, is the exact same oil that rides the rails through Tulsa every day.

It's crude oil from the booming oil patch in North Dakota and Wyoming called the Bakken shale. Oil from the Bakken is said to be much more volatile than traditional crude yet it's shipped in the same tankers the government calls outdated.

"It's kind of insane to think they would be transporting something so toxic right through a very heavily populated area. That's just sounds criminal to me," said Atkins.

We asked to go on a railroad inspection but federal regulators told us that would be impossible since the railroads are private property. So we looked into the numbers and discovered there often train derailments in Oklahoma that we never hear about.

-Department of Transportation statistics reveal 131 derailments in our state since 2011

-There have been 10 derailments in Oklahoma so far this year.

-22 percent of all derailments since 2011 were in Tulsa County.

And, it turns out, Atkins' concerns about the tracks may be valid. Track infrastructure issues, like missing railroad ties, cracks, breaks or otherwise defective rails caused about 40 percent of Oklahoma derailments.

"We aren't prepared. Our communities aren't prepared to respond to this. This is, or this can be, a worst case scenario event and we don't have provisions in place to deal with it, either on the industry side or first responders," said former NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman in an April news conference.


2/11/2014 Related Story: Potentially Explosive Train Cargo Puts Tulsans At Risk

Since our first report in February the Feds ordered railroads to notify state emergency responders when trains carrying at least a million gallons of Bakken crude oil will travel through their communities. Oklahoma regulators said four railroads crisscrossing Oklahoma notified first responders of those massive shipments: Union Pacific, BNSF, Kansas City Southern and Stillwater Central Railroads.

Click here to read the railroads’ responses.

But we may never know exactly when those trains are traveling through our communities. The state of Oklahoma signed confidentiality agreements with the railroads, citing terrorism concerns. It's a move open records advocates dispute, claiming the public has a right to know.

"This is information they're entitled to know, and they need to know it. And in some ways, they have an obligation to know it. Because it poses a threat," said Joey Senat, an OSU Media Law professor and Freedom of Information Expert.

Senat believes Oklahoma's decision to keep the information private has nothing to do with terrorism and people should demand to know.

"This is about the inconvenience for the railroads, because if people knew what was coming through their towns they might protest that it not come right through the heart of small towns or big cities," said Senat.

Oklahoma's Department of Environmental Quality said they signed those railroad confidentiality agreements to keep shipment details out of the wrong hands. But after 6 Investigates pushed them for weeks to release the information, the state could be backing off that decision.

"The safety of Oklahomans is DEQs number one priority. We do recognize the public's right to know. We do want to release as much information as we can, but we have to figure out how to do it in a manner that we don't violate those confidentiality agreements with the railroad carriers," said Skylar McElhaney, ODEQ Spokesperson.

Atkins believes by keeping the information private, state officials are putting people at risk.

"This is a serious situation. Something needs to be done," said Atkins.

DEQ said it provided the routes the Bakken crude oil trains take to 20 Oklahoma Counties. The Tulsa fire department confirmed it has received that information.

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