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BNSF Railway must pay the Washington Tribe nearly $400 million for trespassing on oil trains

This photo provided by the Washington Department of Ecology shows a derailed BNSF train on the Swinomish Tribal Reservation near Anacortes, Washington on March 16, 2023. A federal judge ordered BNSF Railway on Monday, June 17, 2024, to pay nearly $400 million to a Native American tribe in Washington state after discovering that the company deliberately crossed the line when it repeatedly ran 100-car trains of crude oil through the reservation. Photo courtesy of the Washington Department of Ecology via AP.

SEATTLE (AP) — BNSF Railway must pay nearly $400 million to a Native American tribe in Washington state, a federal judge ordered Monday after finding the company committed willful infringement when it repeatedly sent 100-car trains of crude oil through the tribe’s reservation.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik initially ruled last year that the railroad willfully violated the terms of a 1991 easement with the Swinomish tribe north of Seattle that allows trains to carry no more than 25 cars per day. The judge held a trial earlier this month to determine how much profit BNSF made from violations and how much it should give back.

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The tribe sued in 2015 after BNSF, without the tribe’s permission, dramatically increased the number of cars driving through the reservation so it could ship crude oil from the Bakken Formation in and around North Dakota to a nearby facility. The route crosses sensitive marine ecosystems along the coast, over waters connected to the Salish Sea, where the tribe has treaty-protected fishing rights.

Cooking oil is easier to refine into fuels sold at the gas pump and ignites more easily. After rail cars carrying Bakken crude exploded in Alabama, North Dakota and Quebec, a federal agency warned in 2014 that the oil has a higher degree of volatility than other crude oil in the US.

Left:
This photo provided by the Washington Department of Ecology shows a derailed BNSF train on the Swinomish Tribal Reservation near Anacortes, Washington on March 16, 2023. A federal judge ordered BNSF Railway on Monday, June 17, 2024, to pay nearly $400 million to a Native American tribe in Washington state after discovering that the company deliberately crossed the line when it repeatedly ran 100-car trains of crude oil through the reservation. Photo courtesy of the Washington Department of Ecology via AP.