By Dustin Monke Forum News Service
The Bismarck Tribune
The company planning to build an oil refinery west of Belfield and just three miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s eastern edge has submitted its permit application to the North Dakota Department of Health.
On Friday, Meridian Energy Group submitted its permit to construct the Davis Refinery as a minor synthetic source of air pollution, said Craig Thorstenson, an environmental engineer who handles permitting for the department’s Division of Air Quality.
The refinery is the first “of its complexity” in history to apply as a minor synthetic source, according to a statement by Meridian. Other refinery projects typically apply as a major source of air pollution.
Meridian’s plans call for the Davis Refinery to eventually refine 55,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil a day. Throughout the process, Meridian officials have said the Davis Refinery will be the most environmentally sustainable refinery ever built.
However, Thorstenson said the department is still waiting to receive computer modeling from Meridian. Meridian Energy CEO Bill Prentice said Tuesday the computer modeling should be submitted by today, and said the permit application is around 900 pages.
“We’ll start looking at it now, of course, but we won’t do an in-depth review until we receive all of the information,” Thorstenson said, adding the review process could take up to a year.
Prentice said the refinery is still on schedule to become operational in early 2018 and added that he hopes the permitting process moves moves along without interruptions. Still, he said he’s happy to let the Department of Health do its diligence.
“Nothing ever happens fast enough for companies like us,” he said. “I cannot fault anything either the county did a couple months back, or the air quality guys are doing now. They’re really doing their job and putting us through our paces. As a result, we sat down and put together the mother of all air-quality permit applications.”
No matter what the company does though, it still has opponents vehemently fighting to keep it from being built.
The National Parks Conservation Association issued a statement Tuesday urging “the most stringent review” of what its regional director called a “harmful proposal.”
The NPCA and National Park Service has pushed back against the refinery because they believe the refinery would threaten Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s Class 1 air-quality standard, which is protected under the Clean Air Act.
If the refinery were to be classified as a major source of air pollution by regulators, it likely wouldn’t be approved.
“Pollution from an industrial facility of this size, less than three miles from the park, threatens the park’s pristine air and scenic views,” Bart Melton, Northern Rockies Regional Director for NPCA, said in a statement. “Refineries emit the types of air pollution that pose a risk to human health, wildlife and plants.”
Prentice, however, said Meridian is doing everything it can to ensure it meets the minor source standards.
He said the company is working with Zia Environmental Engineers & Consultants, of Las Cruces, N.M., which he called experts in pinpointing flaws that affect air quality emissions.
“Our engineering, to date, has been almost entirely devoted to putting together something that’ll become the cleanest refinery in the world,” Prentice said.
Beyond emissions, opponents also argue the refinery would be an eyesore to park visitors.
Meridian officials have repeatedly said the refinery wouldn’t be visible from the vast majority of Theodore Roosevelt National Park — even going as far as to hold an event in July on Buck Hill, the park’s highest point, to try and prove it.
“Just as we shouldn’t allow an oil refinery to be built within view of Yellowstone or Yosemite national parks, and we will fight against the Meridian refinery, proposed within view of President Roosevelt’s namesake national park,” Melton said in his statement.