Dispute over refinery near national park heats up

Monday, March 25, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Parties involved in a dispute over whether North Dakota regulators should be involved in the siting of an oil refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park have filed their initial legal arguments in state court. Here’s a look at the dispute over the $800 million Davis Refinery being built by Meridian Energy.

Meridian wants to build the project just 3 miles from the park that’s the state’s top tourist attraction, drawing more than 700,000 visitors annually.

The company says the facility will be the “cleanest refinery on the planet,” a model for future plants and a boost for the area economy.

Environmental groups worry pollution will erode air quality at the park and mar its majestic scenery. Meridian began site work last summer and plans to resume construction this spring with a goal of having the refinery fully operating by mid-2021.

The amount of oil Meridian says it will process at the refinery is central to why North Dakota regulators never considered the appropriateness of the site.

Under state law, oil refineries with a capacity of 50,000 or more barrels daily need to obtain a site permit from the Public Service Commission, a process that involves public hearings and can take half a year or longer to complete.

Meridian initially told the media, investors and government officials that the refinery would have a capacity of 55,000 barrels, but the company later lowered the figure to 49,500.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Dakota Resource Council believe Meridian pulled a fast one.

The groups criticized the commission for trusting the company and appealed to district court.

In their initial argument filed late last month, the groups say they haven’t even been given an opportunity to make their case in a formal hearing.

They want a chance to question Meridian CEO William Prentice about an affidavit he signed last August saying the company has “no current plans” for any expansion beyond 49,500 barrels per day.

“This statement flatly contradicted all publicly available information,” their attorneys wrote.