NEW TOWN — The Three Affiliated Tribes have announced Wednesday that they have been given approval to take control of a piece of reservation land to build an oil refinery.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar joined with tribal leaders at tribal headquarters to announce the permit approval, which brings a refinery one step closer to reality.
“This is a historic day for the United States for a number of reasons,” Salazar said. “It’s a proud day as we move forward with the president’s all-of-the-above energy strategy.”
Nine years ago, the tribes had requested that the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a part of the Department of the Interior, accept the acreage into a trust. The trust will allow the Interior Department to own the land while allowing the tribes to control and manage it.
The tribes have wanted to use a 469-acre piece of land near Makoti to build the refinery and produce feed for a buffalo herd. Plans call for the refinery to be built on a 190-acre portion of the land. The other land will be used for the buffalo.
The permitting process, which was nearly a decade in the making, opens the door for the construction of a new refinery for the first time in more than 30 years.
A groundbreaking at the $400 million refinery site may occur as soon as spring 2013, according to Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall. The facility, to be known as the MHA Nation Clean Fuels Refinery, will have a capacity of 13,000 barrels per day of production. Bakken crude oil will be shipped to the refinery and will be made into diesel fuel, gasoline and propane. The refinery site is located along state Highway 23, on the edge of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
“It’s the biggest economic project in the history of our tribe,” Hall told The Associated Press. “We’re really excited about this finally coming to fruition.”
Salazar said the facility will bring between 800 and 1,000 jobs to the New Town area during the construction phase. About 140 permanent jobs are estimated to be created at the facility, and millions of dollars in revenue are expected to be generated annually for the surrounding communities.
“It’s going to be tremendous to the overall economic well-being (of North Dakota),” Salazar said.
Salazar noted that the Department of the Interior has approved a number of large-scale projects around the country.
“This is a unique project that has been approved. It’s unique in the sense that it’s in the Bakken and that there has not been a new oil and gas refinery approved in the United States in nearly 40 years,” Salazar said.
Salazar said the permitting process is a lengthy, complex one. He said although the Environmental Protection Agency has drawn a large amount of criticism in recent years, it was the EPA’s environmental approval that ultimately is allowing the project to move forward.
He said the permitting process to create the federal-tribal partnership included the drafting of extensive legal documents covering an array of environmental and insurance liability issues.
“We are confident from a legal standpoint that everything is covered,” Salazar said.
North Dakota’s congressional delegation, Sens. Kent Conrad, John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg, were quick to praise Wednesday’s announcement in a joint statement.
“This approval represents another step forward for the Three Affiliated Tribes and our state, but more work remains. It will create new jobs, especially for members of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation,” they said.
North Dakota Republican and Democratic candidates running for state and federal office across the board issued similar statements in reaction to the announcement.
Future permitting and oversight will be addressed through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, OSHA and the EPA.