(Tulsa, Oklahoma – February 28, 2014)
“They’re a moving threat, crisscrossing Green County every hour of every day, and there’s a warning about the explosive potential of rail cars traveling through Oklahoma,” said Tulsa KOTV Channel 6 TV Investigative Reporter Jennifer Loren in a scathing expose’ of railroad stonewalling of the media on safe transportation of volatile materials like oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota.
“Recent derailments and deadly explosions have put rail transport of crude oil under scrutiny,” reports KOTV’s Loren, adding that “Now the Department of Transportation has issued a warning about that specific type of oil, advising that it’s more flammable than traditional oil.”
“The feds are scrambling to increase regulations on the transportation of crude oil by rail, trying to make it safer,” explains Loren. “But our investigation revealed we are all at risk if a train derails,” she says, emphasizing “And that oil is just one of many explosive materials traveling through our cities and towns every single day.”
Jennifer talked with Jim Tinnen, who lives along the railroad in North Tulsa, where several rail cars derailed in December, leaving a mess that crews are still cleaning up. “It’s a concern alright. You know, but I guess you try and live with it,” he said of the risk of having the railroad for a neighbor.
Pointing out that “Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s trains haul most of the Bakken oil to refineries around the country,” Ms. Loren said “I asked the railroad if that oil comes through Tulsa, but BNSF wouldn’t say, citing homeland security laws following September 11.”
A BNSF spokesperson offered KOTV a statement which read “BNSF shares information about the hazardous materials moving through a community with local emergency responders for safety reasons, but does not make that information public for security reasons.”
Really? Tulsa Fire Dept. Hazmat Coordinator Paul Ator tells it a bit differently, saying that the railroads only tell them what’s in their tankers — which pass right by Tulsa City Hall, busy downtown office buildings and the BOK Center — after there’s been an incident, like a leak or a derailment. “There’s really not that much communication as to what’s coming in and out of town.”
So Jennifer explained that “There are other ways to find out if Bakken crude oil is coming through Tulsa. We combed through newsletters and annual reports of oil and gas and railroad companies. They show thousands of barrels of Bakken crude oil coming through Tulsa every day.”
Loren also discovered routes that the Bakken oil takes, and that a derailment and explosion in Luther, OK that triggered evacuations in 2008 was carrying Bakken oil to the Gulf, and had earlier passed through Tulsa.
Talking to TFD’s Ator again, the reporter said that “Ator said he worries more about other chemicals coming through Tulsa.”
“It could be oil. It could be diesel, gasoline, propane, anhydrous ammonia, carbon dioxide…just all kinds of stuff in these things, said Ator, referring to the railroad tank cars.
“A 2011 derailment in West Tulsa involving ten rail cars carrying anhydrous ammonia is one of the most alarming,” said the reporter. “Anhydrous ammonia is what blew up in last year’s deadly West, TX fertilizer explosion,” adding that “There wasn’t a single leak with the west Tulsa derailment, but it could have been a huge disaster.”
“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Ator.
“Among the reforms the feds are considering in their efforts to make crude transportation safer: phasing out the most common kind of tank car that carries hazardous materials on trains; the DOT 111 which basically, they said, is no longer safe and can be found in all of our rail yards,” said the KOTV investigator. “They’re also considering re-routing hazardous shipments to avoid urban areas, though many said that’s just not realistic,” she concluded.