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Plant manager hired for Dickinson refinery

Dave Podratz

The first oil refinery to be built in the continental United States in 36 years will be managed by someone with nearly as much time in the refinery business.

Wisconsin native Dave Podratz has been hired as the future plant manager at the Dakota Prairie Refinery, which is slated to go up just west of Dickinson, according to a release Thursday from MDU Resources Group.

"I'm very excited," Podratz said during a phone interview Thursday. "This is the first refinery to be built in the U.S. in nearly four decades. I'm just really excited to be a part of that."

Since starting in the refining industry in 1980, Podratz has spent time at a number of facilities in the U.S. and abroad, including at his current post as refinery manager at Calumet's Superior, Wis., facility.

Podratz will begin his duties as the new diesel topping facility's chief on July 1.

"This refinery is something that, obviously, will be good for Dickinson," Podratz said. "It's the perfect place for it because you have the oil that is booming out in western North Dakota and the need for diesel fuel. It's a great fit and it will produce some good jobs, but, more so than that, the fact that we're getting another refinery built in the U.S. is probably the biggest thing."

With a target completion time of late 2014, ground was broken for the facility -- which will be located on a 318-acre site 4 miles west of Dickinson -- in March with much fanfare as both of North Dakota's U.S. senators and Gov. Jack Dalrymple attended the event to kick-off its construction.

At full tilt, the DPR is projected to process close to 20,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day and will be home to about 100 new full-time jobs, according to MDU and Calumet Specialty Products, which are partnering to bring the operation to life.

Once he begins his new post, Podratz will lead the organizational development, start-up and commissioning process of the refinery, said MDU spokesman Tim Rasmussen. Podratz has headed up the Superior refinery for the past 13 years, he said.

"When I came to Superior, it was a fully functional facility and we already had a team in place," Podratz said. "With the Dakota Prairie Refinery, the facility isn't there yet -- it's a different situation and I'm looking forward to the challenge. The biggest challenge, I think, will be finding good staff, getting good people and getting everything ready for start-up. It's going to be completely different than coming into an existing facility."

Rasmussen said the wealth of experience Podratz has in the industry was a big draw in the hiring process.

"We're pleased to have Dave to lead us in this endeavor, which is a very big project for us," Rasmussen said. "Dave provides some real world experience that is going to be very valuable as we move forward."

Rasmussen added that the wet spring in western North Dakota has slowed the construction process somewhat, but he said he believes the project on track to be completed by its targeted date.

A native of Wausau, Wis., and a University of Wisconsin graduate with a degree in chemical engineering, Podratz said he has yet to visit Dickinson, but has heard nothing but good things about the area.

"I've told a few of my friends where I was going and they're excited," Podratz said. "They do some upland game hunting out that way, so we're planning to get together this fall."

The DPR facility is expected to be functional 24 hours a day with employees working two 12-hour shifts. It's also projected to emit close to 125,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year into the atmosphere, though officials have indicated that potential odors from the topping plant are not expected to be an issue for Dickinson or neighboring South Heart residents.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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