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Not sharing: Regulator: Oil industry balks at sharing crucial rail data

Press Photo by Katherine Lymn A BNSF train carries coal and oil through Dickinson on March 14. Regulators believe the oil industry has failed to share information that could help prevent future accidents.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. oil industry has failed to share important data on oil-by-rail shipments that may help regulators prevent future accidents, a top regulator said on Tuesday in the latest chapter of a simmering dispute.

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Cynthia Quarterman, chief of the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, specifically cited the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s top lobbying group, for not keeping its promise to share data about oil-by-rail shipments.

“More than two months ago, we received assurances from industry that the safe transport of crude oil across the country was a top priority and, to that end, API would begin sharing important testing data,” she said in a statement.

“To date, that data has not been shared.”

Eric Wohlschlegel, an API spokesman, said the trade group was sharing information with regulators, but he did not provide details.

The safety of oil-by-rail deliveries has come under scrutiny in recent months as a number of fiery derailments have puzzled officials, given the power of the accompanying explosion.

Regulators are particularly concerned about fuel produced in North Dakota’s Bakken Oil Patch, the source of several oil-by-rail shipments that have exploded with uncommon force.

In a January letter, the API promised to “share expertise and testing information” about oil-by-rail shipments by the end of February.

Wohlschlegel said in an email on Tuesday to Reuters: “If there is data Administrator Quarterman or anyone else at DOT thinks needs to be shared that is not, please let us know so we can provide it.

“We know that our companies are providing data to PHMSA. Some already have done so and others will share as soon as it is gathered,” he said.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said on Tuesday that the lack of industry data should weigh on the minds of officials considering the risks of oil-by-rail shipments.

“This lack of cooperation from the energy industry confirms all of our worst fears of their failure to prioritize safety,” said Schumer. New York is a pass-through point for a large share of Bakken crude.