What started out as a race to build a state of the art crude oil refinery in Billings County has turned into a game of chess between the Meridian Energy Group and the conservation groups who oppose it.
The Meridian Energy Group broke ground and started site construction on the Davis Refinery in Belfield this week, and so far they have delivered on their promise to create jobs locally.
“ABC Fencing . . . Martin Construction. . . All the contractors we have on site today are from Dickinson or Belfield, ” said Lance Medlin, Executive Vice President for Meridian Energy Group.
Medlin said the project is expected to employ 500 jobs during construction, and they plan to start construction on the refinery next year.
However, conservation groups like the Dakota Resource Council are not thrilled by the site.
“Being so close to our national park. . . our precious park . . Our number one tourist spot in North Dakota,” said Linda Weiss, Dakota Resource Council.
The conservation groups major concern is the refinery’s proximity to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and its affect on the air quality, and in order to protect it they have filed four complaints against Meridian; two of them in court.
“We want to have all that information reviewed. They have missed some things, ” said Weiss.
The Dakota Resource Council and other groups are challenging Meridian’s water permit with the ND State Water Commission, and have filed a complaint with the ND Public Service Commission against Meridian for not applying for a siting permit with the PSC.
Refinery’s that produce at least 50,000 barrels per day are required to do so by law.
“Our maximum capacity for the Davis refinery is 49,500 bpd . . .to bring up 55,000 bpd has nothing to do with the Davis Refinery, ” said Medlin
Weiss argues Meridian’s application filed with the North Dakota Department of Health reads that the refinery has a maximum capacity to process up to 55,000 bpd, and its air quality permit said the same.
“The sum doesn’t seem to equal the whole, said Weiss.
However, Medlin said the Davis Refinery will only have the capacity to process 49,500 bpd , but they have no issue with getting a permit from the PSC if that is what the law requires.
An a official with the public service commission said the complaint was filed on June 29, 2018 and Meridian has 20 days to respond to it.
The Dakota Resource Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center, and National Parks Conservation Association have filed have filed an administrative appeal in Southwest District Court for the air quality permit to construct Meridian received from the North Dakota Department of Health in June after an 18 month review.
The Dakota Resource Council is also involved in a civil case with the energy group in South Central District Court for the zoning permit it received from Billings County.
“There is questions about the legality of the conditional use permit,” said Weiss.
The conservation group is arguing Meridian violated it’s conditional use permit by not breaking ground within a year from when it was issued in July of 2016.
“As far as we are concerned it was contingent upon a one year time frame from when they were given the permit from the health department,” said Jim Arthaud, Billings County Commissioner.
The Billings County Commission required Meridian to post a total of $3.25 million in construction bonds for the Davis Refinery, so far they have provided $265,000 for the civil construction phase and will issue more as other construction projects develop.
Arthaud and Medlin said the bonds are “standard operating procedure” for construction projects, and it has nothing to do with the resistance they facing from the conservation groups.
Meridian said the appeals will not halt construction, and it looks like a lot of moves will have to be made before someone calls check mate.
The Meridian Energy Group said they hope for the Davis Refinery to be operational by 2020.