Montana AG Challenges New Washington State Oil Shipping Rules

Jul 17, 2019

Montana and North Dakota are petitioning the U.S. Department of Transportation to overturn a new Washington state law that could jeopardize rail shipments of crude oil from the Bakken region.

Washington’s new statutes require oil shipped by rail through the state to have volatile gases removed to reduce the risk of explosive and potentially deadly derailments. Bakken crude typically doesn’t meet that threshold, which Montana Attorney General Tim Fox says could make it uneconomical to send west via tanker car if the law goes into effect later this month.

"And the oil produced from the Bakken formation, and particularly since the hydraulic fracturing era, is very important not only to jobs and the economy in this state, but also to tax revenues,” he says.

Montana’s slice of the Bakken region produced 18 million barrels of crude last year.

Washington’s new law would essentially require producers to pre-process the oil before its loaded onto a railway to be refined in the Pacific Northwest. Alternatively, the product could be trucked to Washington, but Fox says that infrastructure isn’t in place.

The attorney general says Washington’s new statues are pre-empted by decades-old federal standards intended to create uniformity for shipping hazardous materials across the country. The national guidelines provide more wiggle room for acceptable volatile gas pressures.

Montana and North Dakota’s petition is now expected to undergo a public comment period.

Copyright 2019 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.