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Consultants say Makoti refinery is nearing government OK

BISMARCK -- A proposed tribal-owned oil refinery on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation should get its final government go-ahead this spring, a petroleum geologist told a group studying a state-owned refinery Tuesday.

Horace Pipe, a consultant for the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation and project manager for the refinery, told the group at a meeting in Mandan that the final Environmental Protection Agency environmental study should be published next month. Following another 60-day waiting period, the tribe will have its final federal approval by late May, he said.

The site is just east of Makoti, a town southwest of Minot. The 15,000-barrel-per-day refinery was first proposed in the 1990s and the tribe applied to the EPA for approval in 2003.

Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, one of the legislators pushing for a state-owned oil refinery, said the tribe isn't ready to break ground in May. But the federal approval it will get this spring will solidify financial commitments that were contingent on the EPA permit. He said the tribe and its consultants from Triad Project Corp. still have some engineering details to finalize

Onstad said the tribe's apparent success - and progress also being made by a group working on a new Williston refinery - doesn't discourage him from pushing forward for a state-owned refinery.

"It really supports what we're trying to do," he said. "We're really adding value to North Dakota crude."

Onstad and Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, announced in January that the state should consider developing a state-owned oil refinery, just as the state owns a flour mill and bank.

Robert Woolley, president and chief executive officer of Triad, told the more than 20 people at the meeting that the tribes' refinery will be the cleanest in the nation, not to mention the first U.S. refinery built from the ground up in more than 30 years.

Woolley said he was involved in building the most recently constructed new refinery in North America, which is near Calgary, Alberta. He said the work the tribes and his firm have done in designing and getting permits for the Makoti refinery can serve as a blueprint for more new refineries.

Also speaking at the meeting was Ron Day of the Mandan Tesoro refinery, who explained the numerous reasons it is financially viable to undertake a new refinery.

He said it would take 10 years to get permits and make all the other arrangements for a new refinery.

But Day said it is not true that the Mandan refinery or Tesoro would oppose a new refinery, as some suspect.

"We're excited to have policymakers understand our business and helping grow that business," he said.

Others on the task force are Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, Sen. Aaron Krauter, D-Regent; Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo; Rep. Rod Froelich, D-Selfridge and Rep. Pam Gulleson, D-Rutland.

Gulleson, Mathern, Onstad and Meyer were the only four at the meeting.

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.