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ND asks feds to 'pre-empt' Washington state's new oil by rail law


The state has filed a formal request with the federal Department of Transportation to block a new Washington state law that would, in effect, ban Bakken crude from being off-loaded from rail cars into any Washington state refinery.

The law prohibits Washington’s refineries from unloading crude from rail tankers unless that crude has a vapor pressure of less than 9 pounds per square inch.  Bakken operators say that’s not possible without removing some of the oil’s valuable components.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has asked the federal Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials safety administration to use what is called the federal “pre-emption” authority. That would mean PHMSA would take over the regulation of oil by rail in that state. Stenehjem said it appears the law is specifically meant to be anti-Bakken crude.

"It is not based on science, or any study that indicates that the vapor pressure at 9 psi is the proper number, or that Bakken oil is any different in terms of volatility than any other oil anywhere else," Stenehjem said.

The request was filed Wednesday. Stenehjem said it could take anywhere from one month to six months before it is published in the Federal Register. He said once that happens, there will be a comment period. And Stenehjem said the decision is subject to further court appeal.

Stenehjem said the state still has the option to challenge the law as unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.

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