North Dakota to sue Washington over Bakken oil bill

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BISMARCK, N.D. - North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says the state will sue Washington state over a bill that could threaten North Dakota’s oil industry. Stenehjem says over the next few weeks, he and the governor will finalize their plans for the lawsuit.

Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Washington, signed a bill that would require rail companies to change the vapor pressure of oil from the Bakken to 9 pounds per square inch. North Dakota currently rails the oil to Washington refineries at 13.7 psi. Lynn Helms, the director for the Department of Mineral Resources said in an Industrial Commission meeting on May 1 there’s no science supporting Washington’s law, a sentiment Stenehjem echoed on Friday.

“It’s not backed by science. It’s not backed by the law. It operates to the detriment to the state of North Dakota and to Washington itself. It doesn’t make sense for them to say they’re going to restrict the importation of oil from North Dakota and then the refineries to have to look for alternative sources, which is oil from Africa and the Middle East,” said Stenehjem.

The detriment to North Dakota would come when the oil is sent to other refineries at a lower price. The lower price would lower tax revenues and hurt the state’s economy.

“It hurts our tax base, hurts our employment, it hurts everything here in North Dakota and for no gain,” said Stenehjem.

Stenehjem believes the law violates the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Act, as well as the Interstate Commerce Clause. Which court this ends up in- whether it’s a federal district court or straight to the U.S. Supreme Court- remains to be seen. He also said Attorneys General from other states have reached out looking to possibly join the lawsuit or write amicus briefs in support of the legal action.

KFYR-TV called the district office of Washington state senator Andy Billig, D-Spokane, who was the prime sponsor of the bill and have not received a call back.

Governor Inslee said during a bill signing event that Bakken crude oil is “uniquely volatile which poses significant threats to people, facilities and the environment,” Inslee said. “As the federal government continues to fail to exercise its full power to ensure oil safety, Washington needs to remain vigilant in protecting our communities.”

Governor Doug Burgum said in a statement:

"It is deeply disappointing that another state would attempt to impose restrictions that are both unreasonable and unsupported by science to block the transport of a legal product being shipped in a manner that is even safer than what federal standards require. We will now consult with the Attorney General on appropriate legal action to defend our state's constitutionally protected right to interstate commerce."