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Oil-train restriction bill passes Washington Senate

March 5, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The Washington Senate passed a bill Monday that would target oil trains by requiring crude oil passing through to be made less volatile.

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

Lawmakers voted 27-20 in favor of the measure, sending it to the state House.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic majority leader Sen. Andy Billig of Spokane, described it as targeting especially oil trains containing Bakken Crude, which he said pass within hundreds of yards of schools and residences in his district.

“All of those people and entities are in danger from a possible explosion if there were a derailment,” Billig said.

Oil train derailments can lead to intense fires. In Lac-Megantic, Canada, a derailment and fire killed 47 and destroyed 30 buildings in 2013. A 2016 fire in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge spilled 42,000 gallons and burned for 14 hours.

Flammable vapors are part of what makes a fuel volatile, and supporters of the measure said it would make the oil trains that pass through the state on a daily basis safer.

But critics of the proposal said it would amount to a de facto ban on shipment of oil, especially oil from North Dakota known as Bakken Crude, by rail in the state because the cost of additional processing would make it cheaper to ship oil via routes outside of Washington.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, also questioned whether the process in question — reducing the vapor pressure of the oil carried by the trains — would actually make oil trains any safer.

“I believe the point of this is to block those cars from coming through,” Ericksen said. “We’d lose a lot of good union jobs.”

Billig said after the vote that his office had not performed any independent analysis of the bill’s economic impact on the state, but that he thought oil companies would choose to do the extra processing.