If the Meridian Energy Group wants to be successful in North Dakota it needs to be upfront with the state. The company plans to build the Davis Refinery near Belfield.
On Sunday, reporters Amy Dalrymple and Jessica Holdman looked at the project and the questions surrounding it.
The project is controversial because it’s 3 miles from the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Opponents of the project fear it could damage the view and harm the air quality, both claims that Meridian disputes.
The company has applied for an air quality permit, which the North Dakota Department of Health is reviewing. It’s also seeking approval from the State Water Commission to withdraw water from deep underground and treat it for use in the refinery.
What the company isn’t pursuing is a review of the entire project. Under the law, refineries that process 50,000 barrels of oil per day are required to be sited by the Public Service Commission. The company has told the PSC it plans a small refinery to process 27,500 barrels of oil per day. At the same time, the company has been telling investors and others it plans to expand the refinery to 55,000 barrels per day. It appears the company plans to start small and then grow. Before the company could expand the refinery it would need a site review by the PSC.
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The company may believe if it gets a small refinery operating there will be reluctance to reject expansion. The Tribune Editorial Board agrees with Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, who wants the company to apply for a siting permit now.
Building a refinery in the U.S. hasn’t been an easy task. If completed, the Davis Refinery would be the first full-phase refinery completed in the past 50 years. So it makes sense to have the PSC review the project before it begins.
The Health Department has asked for more data after Meridian filed for a synthetic minor source permit, meaning the facility would emit less than 100 tons annually of pollutants. The Health Department also wants more information on the proposed emissions controls.
The state engineer is reviewing a recommendation from hydrologist Kimberly Fischer on the water permit. Fischer said the state doesn’t expect much impact on the Dakota Aquifer. Critics, however, have questions about the water and potential waste the treatment process will create.
Meridian has been aggressive about promoting the project as creating the "cleanest refinery on the planet.” It conducted a test at Theodore Roosevelt National Park to prove the refinery’s process stack wouldn’t be visible at the park. The fact it’s seeking a synthetic minor source permit indicates the level of emissions it expects.
There are valid concerns about the refinery.
Valerie Naylor, former Theodore Roosevelt superintendent, is opposed to the refinery and wants a broader review of the proposal. Naylor, now a consultant for the National Parks Conservation Association, told the Tribune: "But you have to look at the whole picture. The whole project is more than the sum of its parts."
The Tribune doesn’t believe the proximity to the park in itself should be a deal breaker. We are convinced a full site review would be in the best interest of all parties involved. The PSC doesn’t have the reputation of turning down solid projects. A PSC review would add some time to the project, but it’s doubtful there would be much of a delay. If the company is required to get a major source permit that would mean involvement by the Environmental Protection Agency. Under the Trump administration the EPA has become more friendly to projects.
If Meridian wins the endorsement of the Health Department, State Water Commission, PSC and EPA, North Dakotans can be confident in the refinery. We ask Meridian to seek a site review by the PSC.