OLYMPIA – The Washington State Senate has approved legislation to reduce the risk posed by shipping highly flammable Bakken crude oil across the state.

Senate Bill 5579, sponsored by Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane), passed the Senate Monday on a 27-20 vote. The bill would require facilities offloading or loading crude oil from a rail tank car to meet specific vapor pressure standards.

“This bill about safety – the safety for the workers who unload Bakken crude oil at their endpoint in Washington state, and for the safety for everyone along the route by which it travels from North Dakota. These large shipments of extremely flammable fuel run through the heart of our state, starting with my community in Spokane,” said Billig. “People and their safety must come first. Experts know that highly flammable Bakken oil poses greater risk and it’s time to take meaningful action to reduce the threat of a serious catastrophe.”

SB 5579 reduces level of risk posed by the volatility of Bakken oil by, in the effect, requiring producers to condition the oil to meet safer standards prior to shipment from the Bakken region.

There have been at least 14 events in recent years involving derailments of Bakken crude in the U.S. and Canada, including the Lac-Megantic rail derailment that killed 47 people and the derailment and fire at Mosier, Ore., that necessitated the evacuation of much of the town and narrowly avoided a catastrophic spill into the Columbia river.

While the federal government has adopted so-called packing rules for high-hazard flammable trains, it has not adopted a nationwide vapor pressure standard for crude oil shipped by rail, and has not responded to petitions from multiple states to do so.

Under the bill, a facility may not store or offload crude oil produced from the Bakken region unless the oil has a vapor pressure of less than nine pounds per square inch. Failing to meet the standard could result in penalties of up to $2,500 per day per rail tank car.

“If the federal government won’t act to protect public safety and adopt a safer nationwide standard, we will adopt our own,” Billig said. “There is just too much to lose – for people and our environment.”

The bill now moves to the state House of Representatives for consideration.