Montana Challenges Washington Law Targeting Bakken Oil Shipments

Attorney General Tim Fox announced today that Montana and North Dakota petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration seeking to overturn a new Washington state law that that effectively prohibits Bakken crude oil.

The petition argues that Washington’s new law is preempted by the federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA). The HMTA authorized the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a uniform set of national regulations for the safe transport of hazardous materials. Congress included specific language in the HMTA to prevent a patchwork of state and local regulations regarding the transportation of hazardous materials.

“Once again, a coastal state is trying to dictate what commodities other states can transport to market,” Attorney General Fox said. “Under a law passed by Congress and signed by the president, the U.S. Department of Transportation has established a rigorous and uniform set of regulations for the safe transport of materials such as crude oil. Washington state politicians want to pretend those standards are insufficient as a pretext for their anti-oil agenda.”

Earlier this year, Washington state enacted a new law that prohibits the loading and unloading crude oil by rail unless the oil has a vapor pressure of less than nine pounds per square inch, which is significantly lower than accepted national standards. Bakken crude oil from Montana and North Dakota tends to have a higher vapor pressure. Washington’s new standard would make it uneconomical for Bakken crude to be unloaded at Washington state refineries.

In 2018, the Bakken region of Montana produced 18 million barrels of crude oil. Since 2009, the region in Montana has produced an annual average of 22.7 million barrels of crude. Bakken crude is transported by rail to several refineries in Washington state, which is why the new law would have a severe impact on Montana.

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