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Meridian Energy Group Inc.’s Davis Refinery has been issued a final air quality permit from the North Dakota Department of Health, clearing the way for construction to begin on the refinery, which will be built three miles from the fringes of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Meridian Energy CEO William Prentice spoke to the lasting legacy that this state-of-the-art facility will hopefully have: being an industry changer that will set a model for cleaning up a notoriously dirty business.

“What I would like to have this project remembered for, if I was struck by lightning tomorrow, is that this is the first nail in the coffin of the old industry that everyone hates so much,” Prentice said in a phone interview. “That’s why I think it’s hypocritical to oppose this project from an environmental view. What we need to see is a group of new projects rise up to replace (the) old … these projects need to be cleaner, they need to be smaller.”

Prentice doesn’t see the oil and gas market going away any time soon.

“The market is not going to disappear, it’s going to be served from someplace. The current industry in the United States is the cleanest in the world -- if you want to pollute the environment, let’s buy all our product from overseas refineries,” Prentice said. “If you want to clean this industry up, remake it in the image of the Davis Refinery.”

Prentice thinks that the cost and hard work that has been put into ensuring this project meets the highest possible standards is often overlooked. Even up to the final hour during the public comment section earlier this year, his team at Meridian, along with the health department, had been studying technical concerns voiced by the public and were making adjustments to the permit application, including adding even more monitoring systems.

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Prentice said that the rigorous environmental scrutiny they’ve endured has only made the project better.

“The project has gotten better every step of the way as a result of the process of doing this permit. I think the project is going to reflect the very best that we can do,” he said. “Read the permit -- a lot of money went into this, the engineering and preparing … it’s a significant undertaking that’s going to benefit the state greatly, and it’s not going to hurt the park.”

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There’s a lot to do in a short period of time. Acquiring a permit to build from the health department’s air quality division was the last condition laid out by Billings County’s commissioners, Prentice said, and they have to get something put in the ground soon. Work is expected to begin within the next five to 10 days.

“We have to do that in order to get everything that goes into the ground finished by Thanksgiving, which is the informal winter time alarm bell,” Prentice said. “At the same time we’re having things fabricated and ready to install.”

The refinery has been approved for production of a maximum of 55,000 barrels of oil per day, but the total realistic output of the initial construction will produce only around 27,500 per day. This was done to satisfy a request made by department officials, Prentice said, who wanted to ascertain the environmental quality standards would be met even at very high production. Expanding the facility to higher bpd outputs is a possibility, Prentice said, but would be a lot of work and would require additional construction beyond what will be completed in two years.

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