WSJ: Rail companies often keep routes a secret from local officials

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating story about the “virtual pipelines” that hide in plain sight around the country: trains, sometimes up to a mile long, that carry oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota to refineries.

Unlike oil pipelines, like the hotly contested Keystone XL that a Canadian company wants to build from western Canada to Nebraska, no new government hearings or environmental reviews are needed to move oil around the country.

Neither, it seems, is much notice required for local cities and emergency-services agencies. Often, the story states, key information — and even the existence of routes — is withheld by rail companies.

From the WSJ:

Finding the locations of oil-filled trains remains difficult, even in states that don’t consider the information top secret. There are no federal or state rules requiring public notice despite several fiery accidents involving oil trains, including one in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people.

The desire for secrecy seems wrongheaded to some experts. “If you don’t share this information, how are people supposed to know what they are supposed to do when another Lac-Mégantic happens?” asked Denise Krepp, a consultant and former senior counsel to the congressional Homeland Security Committee.

She said more firefighting equipment and training was needed urgently. “We are not prepared,” she said.