By Iain Woessner
Representatives from the Meridian Energy Group responded to concerns voiced at the public hearing regarding the proposed Davis Refinery, which will be located at the fringes of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, on Wednesday, Jan. 17. “We were thrilled with the attendance. This is what you go through this entire effort for,” Dan Hedrington, senior project manager for Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc, part of the Meridian Energy Group, said. Hedrington was happy to respond to some of the most common concerns raised at the hearing.
One concern was that the North Dakota Department of Health had not anticipated the exhaust and air pollutants generated by truck traffic coming to and from the proposed refinery. Hedrington said this has been considered by Meridian and the health department, and was addressed by the Billings County Commissioners and their planning and zoning commission. “Trucking has been considered since day one,” Hedrington said. “We had to go through the planning and zoning commission in Billings County … where it was higher review (standards) than I’ve ever encountered from any other county ever. It was extensive.”
He said that not only was trucking information requested, but a condition of the permit — which was granted via unanimous decision — included an agreement to upgrade the roads and place hard surfacing to reduce potential dust.
Hedrington seemed to welcome the scrutiny.
“Those of us who are involved in the intricacies of the process … you’re kind of excited about it,” he said. “It’s (testing your knowledge). It’s a lot of fun. When somebody is asking you these high level questions … it kind of gets your blood going.”
Another concern voiced was that Meridian was playing a “shell game” and trying to weasel its way out of answering to a higher regulatory authority in the form of the Public Service Commission, due to the refinery being just shy of the 50,000 barrels per day production mark which requires PSC intervention. Hedrington explained why there had been different figures circulating about the proposed refinery’s production. “So the original intent of the project was to develop a 27,500 barrel per day facility,” he said, adding that it was the request of regulatory agencies to assess the facility based upon its highest possible production standard. He said that this demonstrated to the public that even if production doubled at Davis, it would still be meeting environmental regulations.
Hedrington said that initially the refinery will only be producing at 27,500 barrels per day. Despite that output, there will be no reduction to the economic benefits Meridian promises the refinery will bring.
“We’ll still be providing jobs, especially in the construction phase,” he said, adding that the addition of the high-paid workforce will also sustain businesses in nearby communities. “That means there’s going to be more grocery stores, there’ll be more activity, more housing, all of these families coming in … that’ll increase tax revenue … growth and infrastructure.”
The health department provided an informative presentation prior to the public hearing portion of the meeting, explaining their permitting process and using a chart to compare emissions from comparable facilities to what the Davis Refinery would produce. That chart showed that currently approved refineries, such as the Tesoro-Mandan facility, far exceed the expected emissions that Davis would produce. Indeed, the University of North Dakota’s coal-fired heating system was shown to be a greater potential source of emissions than Davis would be.
For Hedrington and Meridian, they have absolute confidence that their technology will be proven.
“The amount of money that has been spent so far — we’re in the tens of millions of dollars without even breaking ground. The amount of full design and science and all the evaluation that’s been done thus far … is the exciting part. The next exciting part is to prove it,” he said. “We’ve tried to prove everything thus far. We’ve proven it to the other scientists and engineers, we’ve proven it to those people evaluating. And now to be able to come to the public and say, after this thing is built, that not only did we do what we said we could do, this is an industry changer potentially. Do you not think that the other refineries across the nation are watching what we’re doing in North Dakota?”
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