Baltimore City Council Overwhelmingly Passes Landmark Bill to Protect City from Dangerous Crude Oil Shipments

The Baltimore City Council passed the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition 14-1 to protect Baltimoreans from dangerous crude oil shipments and climate change.

Advocates call on Mayor Catherine Pugh to sign the bill into law.

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore City Council made history tonight by passing a bill 14-1 to ban new or expanded crude oil terminals in the city. Additional or expanded terminals would bring more trains carrying crude oil through Baltimore neighborhoods, increasing the likelihood of a catastrophic explosion and enabling expanded oil drilling across North America.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (District 14) and Councilman Ed Reisinger (District 10) introduced Bill 17-0150, titled the “Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition,” in October 2017 with 9 cosponsors. The legislation uses the city’s zoning code to ban new and expanded crude oil terminals, a strategy spearheaded by cities on the West Coast to fight fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Since federal law prohibits local jurisdictions from regulating commercial rail traffic, cities have turned to their land use powers to protect themselves from facilities that bring increased crude-by-rail traffic through their neighborhoods.

“Our City Council is showing significant foresight and leadership in passing this bill to cut off the demand for crude oil trains to travel to and from Baltimore, endangering both our own residents and communities along the rail route,” said Jennifer Kunze of Clean Water Action. “If other cities follow Baltimore’s lead, we can all protect each other.”

“This bill is a common sense step to protect the communities of Baltimore most at risk from transport of crude oil and to limit the expansion of climate-polluting fossil fuels” said Leah Kelly, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.  “We don’t need more of these potentially hazardous crude oil shipment facilities in the city.”

“Not only will this bill limit the potential for an increase in dangerous crude-by-rail transit in Baltimore, it will also protect our city from the larger impacts of climate change,” said Taylor Smith-Hams of CCAN Action Fund. “By passing this bill tonight, our City Council has voted to uphold its commitment to take action on climate change in the face of dangerous federal deregulation and climate denial. Now it is up to Mayor Pugh to solidify Baltimore’s climate leadership by signing this bill.”

The bill now goes to Mayor Catherine Pugh for her signature. Community members and advocates will host an event on March 19th from 6-8pm at Ottobar to urge the mayor to protect our communities and the climate by signing the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition into law. Advocates have invited the mayor to attend this event.

Background: Starting about a decade ago, transport of crude oil by rail skyrocketed in the midst of the fracking boom in the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota and in tar sands extraction in Canada, and a string of derailments followed. The worst incident occurred when a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013, killing 47 people and leveling the town.

165,000 Baltimoreans live in the crude oil train “blast zone” – the area that could be directly impacted if a train were to derail and explode in the city. There have been many close calls with freight trains and rail infrastructure in Baltimore, including the 2001 and 2016 derailments inside the Howard Street Tunnel and the collapse of 26th Street onto the CSX tracks below in 2014.

While crude-by-rail transit has declined somewhat the last two years as the price of oil has dropped, from 2009 to 2014 rail transit of petroleum multiplied because of the hydraulic fracturing boom.  And just last week, the International Energy Agency predicted that crude-by-rail shipments could see “colossal” growth over the next two years. The IEA estimates that crude-by-rail exports from Canada to the U.S. could more than double over the next two years, increasing to 390,000 barrels per day in 2019, up from 150,000 barrels a day in late 2017.

The last time there was a spike in crude-by-rail shipments, Baltimore saw a proposal for a new crude oil terminal that would have brought an additional 380 million gallons of crude oil through the city annually. That terminal was opposed by surrounding communities and failed to gain approval from the state environmental agency due to a flawed permit application.

Portland, OR, Vancouver, WA, and South Portland, ME have used their zoning codes to guard against crude oil facilities. This bill is an opportunity for Baltimore to be a leader on the East Coast and join the ranks of cities taking serious climate action.

Concerned residents and local advocates are calling on Mayor Pugh to sign the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition to protect Baltimoreans from this unnecessary public health and safety risk and to be a leader on local climate action.




Jennifer Kunze; Clean Water Action; 240-397-4126;
Taylor Smith-Hams; CCAN Action Fund; 650-704-3208;
Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project; 443-510-2574;