North Dakota Delegation Makes Case to Transportation Secretary Chao That Washington State Crude-By-Rail Ban Violates Interstate Commerce Clause

WASHINGTON – Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer and Congressman Kelly Armstrong this week contacted Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to make the case that a recently-passed Washington State crude-by-rail law violates the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and interferes with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and its primary authority over the shipment of crude oil within the United States. The Washington State law requires crude oil unloaded in the state to meet a 9 psi Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP), which will effectively block the Pacific Northwest as a destination for Bakken crude oil.  

The call with Chao follows a letter sent by the delegation to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, outlining the law’s unscientific basis and lack of a solid legal foundation.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation clearly has the primary authority over crude oil that is shipped across state lines, which is why we’ve reached out to Secretary Chao and requested her assistance,” the delegation said in a joint statement. “Further, Washington State’s law will limit our energy industry’s ability to access safe and reliable transportation for this vital commodity, impacting good-paying jobs in our state and undermining our nation’s energy security. At the same time, instead of getting light, sweet Bakken crude, refineries in the Pacific Northwest will have to rely on foreign crude shipped by barge, which is less environmentally sound. That’s why we will continue working to overturn this law and resolve this matter as soon as possible.” 

Current North Dakota regulations require companies to extract the most volatile gases from Bakken crude oil to guarantee the vapor pressure does not surpass 13.7 psi. North Dakota state officials established that threshold based on a national guideline for stable crude oil, which is 14.7 psi.

Under the Washington State bill, companies planning to unload or store oil in Washington would first have to put it through extra processing to reduce its RVP to 9 psi, starting in 2020.