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Public comment sought on refinery proposed near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

A view of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. Forum News Service file photo

BISMARCK—A public comment period for a refinery proposed near Theodore Roosevelt National Park begins on Friday with a public hearing set for January, the North Dakota Department of Health said Tuesday.

Health regulators are inviting comments on a draft air pollution control permit required for the construction of the Davis Refinery, proposed by Meridian Energy Group about two miles west of Belfield.

A review by the Division of Air Quality found the refinery is expected to comply with federal and state air pollution rules and regulations.

A public information meeting and public hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. Mountain Time on Jan. 17 in the Dorothy Stickney Auditorium, May Hall, Dickinson State University.

The public comment period will continue through Jan. 26.

Meridian Energy has touted the project as "the cleanest refinery on the planet," and supporters point to economic development opportunities.

But the location, about 3 miles from the east boundary of Theodore Roosevelt National Park's South Unit, has prompted opposition.

"Plain and simple, there should be no refinery no matter how clean located with that kind of proximity to a national park," said Jan Swenson, executive director for the Badlands Conservation Alliance.

Terry O'Clair, director of the Division of Air Quality, said the department's typical comment period is 30 days, but, in this case, the timeframe will be longer due to public interest and the holiday season.

"We believe this is an important issue that a lot of people have questions on," O'Clair said.

Meridian filed for a synthetic minor source permit, meaning the facility would emit less than 100 tons annually of pollutants, such as sulfur, nitrous oxide, methane and carbon monoxide, and less than a combined 25 tons annually of hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, cyanide, arsenic and mercury.

A major source permit would require more scrutiny and approval by the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, O'Clair noted that state health regulators spent significant time reviewing the proposal, including seeking input from the EPA and the National Park Service.

Meanwhile, the North Dakota Public Service Commission plans to meet with Meridian officials on Dec. 19 to discuss the company's plans.

Meridian has not filed for a siting permit with the Public Service Commission, which would conduct a review for refineries that process 50,000 or more barrels of oil per day.

In applications to health regulators and the State Water Commission, Meridian said it planned to construct a first phase capable of processing 27,500 barrels per day and expand to a facility capable of processing 55,000 barrels per day.

However, the company now says on its website the second phase will process 49,500 barrels per day, just shy of the amount that would trigger a PSC review.

In addition, Meridian's application for a water permit through the State Water Commission has not yet been resolved.

State Water Commission staff recommended approval of a water permit, but nearby landowners are contesting it. The matter has been assigned to an administrative law judge, with a hearing not expected until next year.