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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Safer, Or Just in the Dark?

In Washington, data that was made public after a horrific pipeline explosion is now secret, thanks to the threat of terror...

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday in favor of a coalition of pipeline companies that sought to keep certain pipeline data out of the hands of the public and the media.

Citing potential terrorist threats and improper procedure by a lower-court judge, the Washington state District of Appeals Division II panel sent the public records requests back to a lower court for a potential trial.

The ruling was disappointing to media organizations, which sought location information on oil and natural gas pipelines.

“I am terribly disappointed,” said Ken Bunting, associate publisher of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The P-I, along with several media organizations including The Bellingham Herald, sought the pipeline data. “I understand that people are concerned about the threat of terrorism, but the threat of terrorism has led to some irrational interpretations of law.”

At issue were detailed pipeline data called shapefiles. The data include specific parts of the pipeline, such as compression stations and valves. The information can be placed over other maps to see where those parts are located in conjunction with businesses or homes or perhaps environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands.

The data were made public by the Pipeline Safety Act of 2000, which was passed after a 1999 pipeline leak explosion that killed three people in Bellingham.

The oil and natural gas companies, with the help of state Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, and Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, nearly closed the data to the public during the 2006 legislative session, but were unsuccessful.

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