PHMSA Renders Crude Oil Quality Decision


On May 11, 2020, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) blocked an effort by the state of Washington to tighten vapor pressure restrictions on the transportation of crude oil by rail. Washington had imposed tighter vapor pressure regulations, seeking to reduce the perceived risk of moving Bakken crude by rail. “The Washington State vapor pressure requirement, if allowed to persist, would set an alarming precedent,” PHMSA chief counsel Paul Roberti wrote in his order. PHMSA said Washington’s requirement, requiring rail cargoes to have vapor pressure lower than 9 psi, would not reduce accidents and did not conform to U.S. Hazardous Materials Regulations.  North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer had called the Washington law a “de-facto ban on Bakken crude oil” in the Pacific Northwest, where several oil refineries are located.

Over the past several years, crude oil vapor pressure has been a significant topic of discussion at COQA meetings. Most recently, the October 2019 meeting in Dallas featured a presentation by Dr. David Lord and Dr. Anay Luketa of Sandia National Laboratories summarizing their work on their combustion experiments of various crude oils. Details of their presentation are in the Archives section on the COQA web page.