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Giant component reaches refinery after months-long journey from Tiawan

Press Photo by Katherine Lymn The crude distillation tower for the Dakota Prairie Refining facility reaches its final destination after a journey from Asia, where it was made. It made the trip north on a 226-foot-long rig after being shipped into the Port of Houston.

It boarded a ship in Taiwan on Nov. 6.

After a stop in Shanghai a couple days later, it spent the rest of November and early December crossing the Pacific Ocean, and went through the Panama Canal.

After arriving at the Port of Houston, it was loaded on a trailer for a weeks-long road trip.

And at 10:43 a.m. Tuesday, the 130-foot-long crude distillation tower for the Dakota Prairie Refining facility slowly but steadily pulled into its destination just west of Dickinson.

“There’s a lot involved,” plant manager Dave Podratz said of planning the trip. “Many, many months.”

At the refinery site off Highway 10 between Dickinson and South Heart, workers had outlined the landing pad for the tower within an inch — it was too big to mess up.

Winds and permitting delays got the truck a little off schedule — including an unplanned three-day stint in Wyoming — but all were happy Tuesday that the caravan, of two semi trucks hauling the trailer, two pilot cars in front and one behind, made it without any major incidents.

The first pilot car went a ways ahead of the rest of the group to scout out any inclines or turns the rest of the convoy needed to know about.

The final leg of the trip was coming north from South Dakota on Highway 85, and onto Interstate 94 for a short stint before exiting at South Heart to take Highway 10 the final few miles. To get there, it passed through Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.

Energy Transportation Inc., the company that hauled the trailer from Texas, specializes in especially heavy hauls, like this one, and transformers and compressors, salesman George Hruska said.

Energy Transportation has staff devoted just to the permitting process — after all, each state and county has its own rules and stipulations for such a heavy load.

North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Eldon Mehrer said his agency works with truckers to get the oversize, overweight permit — categorized as a “superload” if over 250,000 lbs. This tower alone weighed more than 200,000 lbs. In the permitting process, state or county officials give conditions like weight and height maximums, and can dictate the route.

The Highway Patrol saw more than 400 violations of permit provisions last year, Mehrer said.

“It’s kinda cool ’cause people are looking at you,” driver Buddy Meade said. “It’s not just a job, it’s about being able to do something like this …” and to prove it can be done, he added.

Over the course of the trip, a channel was shut down, delaying the barge from being unloaded in the first place; a railroad in Texas had to be shut down for an hour to allow the group to safely pass; and for much of the route, a utility truck followed along in case power lights needed to be moved.

“A load is lifted off of everybody’s shoulders,” Hruska said.

Podratz said it was logistically the hardest piece of the refinery to get to the site.

The drivers, in constant communication via radio, never topped 45 mph during the voyage, and averaged about 30.

The unit’s arrival is symbolic of the refinery’s construction progress, said Tim Rasmussen, spokesman for MDU Resources Group, a partner on the project with Calumet Specialty Products Partners.

The unit, when in place, is one of the first stops for the 20,000 barrels of crude oil the refinery will process daily once it’s operational this December.

In the tower, crude will separate into different components for further refining — Naphtha will then go to a smaller distillation column, for example, and diesel will be sent to have sulfur removed.

The facility will produce 7,000 barrels of diesel a day.