Oil vapor law in Washington state being challenged by 10 more states

November 2019

Tyson Fisher


Attorneys general in 10 states are asking the Trump administration to overturn a new Washington state law regulating the transportation of oil, claiming new oil classifications go against federal law and negatively impact their states.

On Sept. 23, attorneys general for Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming sent a letter to Paul Roberti, chief council for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The letter echoed arguments originally made by North Dakota and Montana regarding a law in Washington state that essentially bans Bakken crude oil.

Those 12 states may find relief with the Trump administration, which has acted to loosen oil and gas regulations. On Sept. 19, the Trump administration announced the “One National Program Rule,” which essentially undermines California’s strict emissions rules.

In a news release, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao called Trump’s One National Program Rule a step to ensuring “no state has the right to impose its policies on the rest of the country.” Similarly, the attorneys general in their letter claim Washington state is imposing their overly strict rules on their respective states.

The Washington state law requires facilities loading and unloading crude oil from a rail tank car to meet strict vapor pressure standards. More specifically, facilities are prohibited from storing or offloading oil that has vapor pressure of more than 9 psi.

New vapor standards do not go into effect until two years after the state Department of Ecology provides notification that the volume of crude oil transported by rail during a calendar year has increased by more than 5% compared to the volume transported in 2018.

Fines can reach $2,500 per day per rail tank car.

Consequently, the law directly and intentionally affects Bakken crude oil.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said in a news release the legislation addresses “the risk posed by shipping highly flammable Bakken crude oil traveling through communities across the state.” Billig cites 14 derailment cases involving Bakken crude in North America. LL

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.