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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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North Dakota says study ‘undermines’ Washington rail law

Inslee says state will defend its statute


BISMARCK, N.D. — A federal study analyzing the volatility of Bakken crude supports the state’s petition to overturn Washington state’s oil shipment safety restrictions, North Dakota’s attorney general said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in May mandated a lower vapor pressure limit for Bakken crude shipped through the state by rail. In July, North Dakota and Montana asked the Trump administration to overrule that law. Several Bakken crude-carrying trains derailed and exploded in recent years, leading to scrutiny of the high vapor pressure of North Dakota oil.

The Sandia National Laboratories study completed this month concluded “vapor pressure is not a statistically significant factor” in the severity of oil train crashes, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Wayne Stenehjem, attorney general for North Dakota, said Wednesday that the study “vastly undermines the reasoning behind the state of Washington enacting this statute because they assume without evidence that Bakken oil is more volatile.”

“The net result is Bakken oil is no different than any other kind of oil with respect to volatility,” Stenehjem added.

Inslee’s office said in a statement that the state will defend its statute. Officials intend to submit comments to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“Every governor has a responsibility and a right to protect the health and safety of their communities and environment,” said spokeswoman Tara Lee. “As Washington has experienced an enormous spike in the numbers of oil trains traveling through our state, this legislation is a reasonable approach to anticipated increased volumes of volatile crude oil.”

The study analyzed oil from the Bakken, the Permian Basin in Texas and crude stored in the federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve, each with a different vapor pressure. Researchers conducted the studies by igniting pools of oil on fire and creating fireballs while measuring the height of flames, burn rate and fireball dimensions, and more.

“The results from this work do not support creating a distinction for crude oils based on vapor pressure with regards to these combustion events,” according to the study.

Kari Cutting, vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said in a statement that the study “conclusively determined” that Bakken crude does not have different physical and combustible characteristics from other crude oil.