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The federal government moved to block a Washington state law that sought to reduce the amount of volatile gases in crude oil that traveled across its territory in oil trains.
The Associated Press reports the Department of Transportation had established that federal law preempts the state law.
“A state cannot use safety as a pretext for inhibiting market growth or instituting a de facto ban on crude oil by rail within its borders,” said in the ruling Paul Roberti, chief counsel of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration at the department.
The department looked into the Washington law after the attorneys general of North Dakota and Montana petitioned it, arguing the Washington law was effectively a ban on the crude oil produced in the two states.
Montana’s Attorney General said the state of Washington had tried to “dictate what commodities other states can transport to market.”
Federal officials judged that the removal of more volatile gasses would not have a significant effect on the severity of oil train crashes, which negates Washington state’s safety argument in support of the controversial legislation.
The AP notes North Dakota alone shipped some 300,000 bpd of oil by train before the crisis depressed production.
“Washington’s law helps protect the public from the inherent risks of transporting oil by rail by decreasing explosion risk in the event of an oil train derailment,” commented the communications director for Washington Governor Jay Inslee. “Public health remains our top priority and we are considering our options.”
One could argue that the however many volatile gasses you extract from crude oil, it will remain combustible. Therefore, the only way to prevent oil train crashes is to stop oil trains from moving.
Meanwhile, traders are turning to rail cars as storage space for temporarily unsellable oil, Reuters reported in April, adding these to another unusual storage option: pipelines.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.