North Dakota, Montana Fight Washington State Oil-by-Rail Law

Published September 10, 2019

The attorneys general of North Dakota and Montana requested the Trump administration block a new Washington State law imposing tighter restrictions on shipping crude oil by rail in the state.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem sent a legal petition to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requesting the federal government use its authority over railroads to countermand Washington State’s oil-by-rail law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in May.

DOT has 180 days to issue a decision on the July 17 petition or explain why it has been delayed and issue a new deadline.

Oil to Refineries

North Dakota ships approximately 150,000 barrels per day of Bakken region crude oil by rail to refineries in Washington State.

The new law requires a reduction of train car tank pressures for oil shipped by rail through the state, purportedly to lessen the risk of potentially deadly explosions during derailments.

Current science indicates crude oil is stable at 14.7 pounds per square inch. Washington State’s new law requires vapor pressure below 9 pounds per square inch. Failing to meet the standard could lead to fines of up to $2,500 per day per rail car. At about 1,700 oil rail cars per week travelling through Washington at present, fines could amount to $4,250,000 in added costs per week.

Curtailing Safety, Shipments

The Fox and Stenehjem petition claims Washington State’s standards are not backed up by science, could make shipping oil by rail prohibitively expensive, violate the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and could decrease safety by subjecting the railroad industry to a variety of disparate state laws instead of a common national standard.

No Northwest Transport

Washington’s new law would virtually shut down oil shipments in the state because pipeline capacity is limited, says Bette Grande, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“About a third of North Dakota’s oil is transported to or through Washington State for refining and shipping,” said Grande. “There were deals put in place by businesses in Washington State under previous administrations going back to 2006 and earlier to increase oil shipments to the region.

“We had people coming to North Dakota cutting deals because they wanted our oil, then Inslee comes in and tries to shut it down, because he wants to be considered one of the great environmentalists, bigger than Al Gore,” Grande said. “Inslee is doing this because he hates Bakken crude, which will still find a market. In the process, he is destroying business in Washington State, all under the pretense of saving us from ourselves.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.

Official Connections:

Attorney General Tim Fox (R-MT):

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R-ND):;

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA):