Crude-by-rail bill won’t improve safety, will kill jobs, raise fuel prices, Ericksen says

 Aims to block oil shipments from Midwestern fields

Litigation inevitable, also puts jobs at risk

Could increase shipments by boat, put more tankers on Puget Sound

OLYMPIA – A measure setting an arbitrary new vapor-pressure regulation for railroad tank cars is an assault on the thousands of workers of Whatcom and Skagit counties who depend on refiners for good-paying family-wage jobs, says state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Senate Bill 5579, approved Monday by the state Senate, prohibits Washington refiners from loading, unloading or storing crude oil with a vapor pressure greater than nine pounds per square inch. Billed as a safety measure by its advocates, the measure could prevent oil-by-rail shipments from the Midwest. Unprocessed Bakken crude would not comply.

“What this bill is really trying to do is to prevent oil shipments to the refineries of Washington state,” Ericksen said. “It won’t make the product any less volatile or reduce the risk of derailments. The state already did everything within its authority to improve the safety of oil shipments, with legislation I worked to pass in 2015. This is just another misguided legislative protest against the use of fossil fuels, and it puts jobs and our economy at risk in Northwest Washington.”

A lawsuit from North Dakota can be expected immediately if the bill passes the House and is signed into law by the governor, Ericksen said. Constitutionality of the proposal is dubious, as Washington would be attempting to regulate interstate commerce, a power reserved to Congress alone.

If the proposal somehow passes legal muster, Ericksen said advocates are ignoring other impacts. Washington refiners, looking to keep their plants near capacity, could be forced to take more shipments by boat – meaning more tanker shipments on Puget Sound.

And if producers decide to process Bakken crude before shipment, to reduce vapor pressure, they would have to decide what to do with the byproducts. In Washington these byproducts are captured and refined. But with no onsite refining capabilities, Midwestern producers might find it most efficient to simply burn them off, adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2017, voters in the city of Spokane rejected a similar proposition that would have fined railroads for shipping uncovered coal and unprocessed crude through the city. The measure failed 57-43.

A report from the Washington Research Council in 2012 put direct employment by Washington refiners at 1,986 jobs, with another 2,919 people working under contract. Nearly all workers reside in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. The high-paying refinery jobs have a substantial ripple effect through the local economy, for a total statewide impact of 26,000 jobs and $1.7 billion in personal income.