The North Dakota Department of Health Air Quality Division has granted a draft permit to construct the Davis Petroleum Refinery to Meridian Energy Group Inc.
After 45 days of public comment and inquiry, the Health Department will weigh any new considerations as it closes in on a final decision.
For Meridian CEO Bill Prentice, this is marks the end of a lengthy drafting process, and an acknowledgement of the efficacy of the technologies that make the proposed Davis Refinery, which will be built just outside Theodore Roosevelt National Park, state-of-the-art.
"That permit is about as final a document as you can possibly get at this point and we're very happy about everything we've been able to accomplish on the technical side," Prentice said. "We're pretty comfortable that there's not much left to investigate in this issue."
Terry O'Clair, director of the Health Department's Air Quality Division, said in a phone interview that although the Refinery technically qualifies as a synthetic minor source, the proximity to the park and the sheer volume of public interest warranted a thorough application review.
"Because it's so close to the park we are looking at it very critically," O'Clair said. "During our review process we have had routine conference calls with both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Park Service and we've shared the application with them, that process has been working great. A lot of good questions, a lot of good discussion ... we've completed our review of the application and now we're beginning the public comment period."
By law, most permits like this have 30 days of public comment, but O'Clair said that due to the proximity of this announcement to the Christmas holiday and the large amount of public interest, they were extending the public comment period to about 45 days, from Dec. 8 to Jan. 26.
This draft permit may be re-examined and more changes or inquiries may result from public comment, O'Clair said. He encourages members of the public to study the permit and send in their comments to the department, all of which can be done online here: There" target="_blank">www.ndhealth.gov/AQ/PublicCom.aspx. There
Therewill be a public meeting at Dickinson State University at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 17 where Prentice and Health Department officials will be present to field questions and hear concerns.
Depending on the outcome of the comment period, Prentice said it was possible they could receive a final permit as early as February.
The Davis Refinery represents what Prentice described as a chance to do something "truly different."
"(When) I came on board, my whole objective after 40 years in this business was to build a refinery unlike any ever seen before," Prentice said. "The challenge here was to prove that everything we wanted to do was commercially proven, so we could present it to the health department as something everyone can rely on."
A refinery like this hasn't been built in the United States for decades, Prentice said, but the Davis Refinery would, once completed, set a new standard in clean energy.
"The result is just extraordinary. On a per barrel basis we produce a fraction of what the industry average is as far as pollution is concerned," Prentice said. "If the entire industry in the United States were to adopt our approach to emissions control ... the amount of air pollution in this country would be decreased dramatically."
Prentice said he had no qualms in challenging the industry to meet the standard that Davis will set, noting that many had expressed doubt or disdain about the proposed project.
"Most people in the industry thought we were crazy or thought we should just go away,"
He said. "(They said) it's going to complicate our lives."
The technology that the refinery will use to maintain its clean operating standards include optical sensors for detecting oil leaks in pipes, and pipes which are themselves constructing using modern machining methods, to be of a higher quality.
The refinery is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the Belfield area and Billings County, with construction employment peaking out at 500 jobs and 200 permanent employee positions expected at the refinery itself, which Prentice had previously said that as many as 180 will be local hires.