Crude oil continues to flow through Maryland amid debate about safety

Amid debate about safety, crude oil continues to move through Maryland

Increasing worry about crude oil shipments through Maryland in recent years by state lawmakers, environmental activists and local residents has done little to slow those shipments down.

Axeon Speciality Products moved nearly 57 million gallons of crude oil by rail through the state in the fiscal year ended June 30, up from the 53.4 million gallons it moved under a previous corporate structure in fiscal 2013 and the zero gallons it moved in 2012 and 2011, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment's Oil Control Program.

Axeon, an asphalt refining company, has brought crude through Baltimore to a Patapsco River terminal in Fairfield near Interstate 895 for transport by barge to Northeast refineries. Its shipments were the only ones covered by the MDE program, which issues oil transfer licenses and collects shipment fees in the state.

Between July and December, Connecticut-based Axeon moved another 21 million gallons of crude oil by rail through the state. That was less than the 21.1 million and 25.5 million gallons it transported in the first half of the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years, respectively, though oil volumes regularly fluctuate by quarter from year to year.

Substantially more crude oil passes through the state but is not captured by the oil control program because it is not unloaded. According to elected officials in Cecil County and documents from sources outside Maryland, including Pennslyvania and Amtrak, long tanker trains pass through the heart of several small towns there, including Perryville and Port Deposit, en route to Northeast refineries.

The transfer volumes reported by the MDE, which have brought the state millions of dollars in associated fees for emergency cleanup and contingency funds, are among the only publicly available details about crude shipments in Maryland, even though a new federal law has required the MDE since May to receive additional data on the volumes, routes and frequency of large crude oil rail shipments in the state.

Railroads Norfolk Southern and CSX have complied with the federal reporting requirement but also sued MDE to prevent it from releasing the information to media outlets, including The Baltimore Sun. A judge recently combined the two railroads' cases into one, with a trial date set June 8.

The amount of crude oil traveling around the country in rail tankers increased exponentially in recent years with a boom in domestic and Canadian production. Several explosive derailments of crude trains have stoked fears about the traffic and led to calls for more transparency.

In Maryland, the debate is playing out from Annapolis to Baltimore's City Hall.

Del. Clarence K. Lam introduced a bill in the General Assembly that would require MDE to study the risks of crude shipments and the railroads to disclose how much crude oil they move through the state. It passed the House last week and will be discussed April 8 in a Senate finance committee hearing .

Lam said he wanted the bill to require the railroads to reveal routes and frequencies as well, but that language was inadvertently left out of the bill's original language and amendments to add it would have prevented the bill's passage out of the House.

The bill would require the MDE to establish accident prevention plans, emergency response plans and contingency plans in the event of a disaster.

In Baltimore, City Councilman Edward Reisinger said he plans to schedule an informational hearing where industry leaders, environmental groups, state agencies and local residents can discuss crude oil shipments and their implications, including potential health impacts for Baltimore residents.

"I just want to bring everybody in together to see where we're at with this," said Reisinger, noting he will wait to see what happens with Lam's bill in Annapolis before scheduling the council hearing.

One topic at the hearing will be Houston-based Targa Resources's application to begin a new crude oil operation in the city's Fairfield area, Reisinger said.

Targa's application has been under review for months, in part because local residents and environmental activists filed a slew of comments in opposition to the proposal.

"We received a significant number of comments, some of them technical in nature, so we expect that this review will take some time," said Jay Apperson, a MDE spokesman. He did not have an estimate for when a decision will be made.

Vincent Di Cosimo, Targa's senior vice president of petroleum logistics, did not respond to requests for comment.

Jon Kenney, the Maryland community organizer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which has advocated for stricter rules for crude trains and more transparency from the industry, said Lam's bill and Reisinger's plan for a hearing in the city are good first steps.

"The state could do more, especially letting people know where the routes of crude oil trains go," Kenney said. "They need to address the environmental impacts this would have, and the health impacts on the community."

Without knowing the routes, local communities can't gauge the crude oil threat, Kenney and Lam said.

Axeon has declined requests for information about routing through Maryland and how the Baltimore terminal plays into its network.

"For competitive reasons, we are not able to provide any details about our operations," said Claire Riggs, an Axeon spokeswoman.

krector@baltsun.com

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