AG Fox is Wrong on Oil Trains

Washington state has a right to protect the health and safety of its citizens

On July 17, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox joined North Dakota seeking to block a Washington state law that would help protect its citizens from exploding oil trains. Fox needs to reconsider his position particularly as oil trains rolling through the Flathead Valley could harm West Glacier, Columbia Falls, Whitefish and our priceless Flathead water.

Oil Safe Flathead is a coalition of conservation groups representing thousands of local members around the Flathead Valley who are interested in the safe and clean transport of volatile crude oil by rail along and near our cherished waterways.

Each week, the wild and scenic Middle Fork of the Flathead River corridor sees 12 to 18 oil trains pass down the river from Marias Pass. Each train carries up to 3 million gallons of Bakken crude oil. In the last four years, the Flathead Valley has been bracketed by large oil spills due to derailment of the same trains that pass through our valley.

In 2015, 35,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilled near Culbertson. In 2016, a fiery crash occurred near Mosier, Oregon in the scenic Columbia Gorge. The resulting explosion and fire caused evacuation of a nearby school and the town of Mosier, closure of a major highway, and oil seeped into the Columbia River. Between 2000 and 2012, there were 37 train derailments along the steep and unstable Flathead River corridor. Luckily, none of those accidents resulted in significant pollution of the vital Flathead River.

The result of a spill from even a single 30,000-gallon tank car into the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Flathead River or Whitefish Lake would result in a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

In March, the state of Washington passed a law requiring that any facility that receives crude oil by train may not load or unload oil with a vapor pressure above 9 pounds per square inch. This is the same vapor pressure that is required to transport crude by pipeline, or by ship. Bakken crude has vapor pressure between 11.5 and 11.8 psi and is very explosive.

To reduce the vapor pressure and make it less volatile would require producers to install new equipment, which oil producers and North Dakota have resisted. These same trains pass through Montana prior to reaching Washington.

Attorney General Fox filed a petition along with the state of North Dakota to overturn the Washington law mandating safer vapor pressure standards.

Washington state has a right to protect the health and safety of its citizens, and safer trains would also benefit Montana. Oil Safe Flathead asks Attorney General Fox to reconsider his stance allowing more dangerous oil trains to cross the Treasure State and the Flathead Valley.

The Montana State Constitution guarantees the right to “a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” The health and safety of Montanans and our pristine aquatic environment depends on keeping Bakken crude oil on track and in the tank cars.

LaVerne Sultz, Conservation Chair
Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited