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North Dakota lawmakers seek Chao's help to fight Washington state's crude-by-rail law


North Dakota's congressional delegation is making its case to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao that Washington state's new crude-by-rail law violates the nation's Interstate Commerce Clause and interferes with the U.S. Department of Transportation's authority over the shipment of crude oil over state lines.

U.S. Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) this week asked Chao's assistance in North Dakota's concerns about Washington's new law.

USDOT "clearly has the primary authority over crude oil that is shipped across state lines, which is why we’ve reached out to Secretary Chao," the delegation said in a joint press release.

"Further, Washington State’s law will limit our energy industry’s ability to access safe and reliable transportation for this vital commodity, impacting good-paying jobs in our state and undermining our nation’s energy security," the lawmakers said. "At the same time, instead of getting light, sweet Bakken crude, refineries in the Pacific Northwest will have to rely on foreign crude shipped by barge, which is less environmentally sound. That’s why we will continue working to overturn this law and resolve this matter as soon as possible."

The delegation's call to Chao follows the delegation's request in April that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee veto state legislation that the delegation describes as a "de-facto ban" on crude-by-rail traffic from North Dakota to refineries in the Pacific Northwest.

However, Inslee signed the legislation, which defines stricter vapor pressure limits for the transport of crude oil by trains. The law requires crude oil unloaded in Washington to meet a 9 psi Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP), which will effectively block the Pacific Northwest as a destination for Bakken crude oil, according to North Dakota's delegation.

Washington's new law relies on "unscientific understanding of crude-by-rail transpiration, and according to current science, would not improve safety of workers or those along rail lines," the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Inslee.

Current North Dakota regulations require companies to extract the most volatile gases from Bakken crude oil to guarantee the vapor pressure does not surpass 13.7 psi. North Dakota state officials established that threshold based on a national guideline for stable crude oil, which is 14.7 psi, the lawmakers said.

Under the Washington State bill, companies planning to unload or store oil in Washington would first have to put it through extra processing to reduce its RVP to 9 psi, starting in 2020, they added.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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