Our Rich Heritage. Our National Park.

Here’s a short follow-up to a story I did a couple weeks ago about the proposed Davis Refinery, the big industrial plant the California company Meridian Energy wants to build next to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

You’ll recall the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDOH) sent Meridian a letter a month ago questioning some of the emissions projections Meridian used in its application for an air quality permit. NDDOH said it was stopping its review of the application until Meridian provided more information about that.

Health Department Air Quality Division Director Terry O’Clair listed a number of specific concerns the Department had with the projected emissions numbers, and then concluded his letter with this:

“Given the information provided in the application, more detailed information must be provided prior to the Department continuing its review of the application. For a Facility of this size, in this industry, and at this proposed location, the refinery should be designed according to health, safety, economics, and operability. After a thorough design is completed, emissions should then be estimated based on the actual equipment/operations included in the design. This will provide added assurance regarding projected emissions from the facility. This assurance is vital given the location of the facility . . . “

“After a thorough design is completed.” Well, that seems to make sense. Design your refinery, and then, based on that design, give us your estimates. Absent that, NDDOH would be approving something based on blue sky, not science.

So this week, Meridian responded to O’ Clair’s concerns in a 13-page, single-spaced letter with 90 pages of attachments, refuting every concern O’Clair listed, and accusing the Department of using outdated information as the basis for stopping the review of the application until Meridian provided better information (read: real numbers based on real equipment and an actual design).

And then Tom Williams, Vice president of Permitting and Planning at Meridian, concluded his 13-page letter with this:

“In closing, Meridian believes that this letter confirms the emissions estimates submitted in the April PTC Application Amendment. Thus, Meridian believes this submittal fully addresses the items brought up in NDDOH’s letter dated May 15th, and does so at a level of detail that is technically and legally justified (note: there’s that “legally” thing again). Meridian therefore requests that the NDDOH accept and approve our emissions inventory and that NDDOH moves forward in making a full determination of completeness of Meridian’s Davis Refinery PTC application documents.”

The arrogance of these people just takes my breath away. It’s not enough that they want to build an oil refinery next door to a national park, but they want it done RIGHT GODDAM NOW! They don’t seem to understand that for most of us it is not just about how many emissions they make next to the park, it is the fact that they are making ANY emissions next to the park.

They also don’t seem to have read Terry O’Clair’s letter very carefully: “After a thorough design is completed.” Twice in his letter, Meridians Williams confirms that the design is not complete.

Here’s an aerial photo of the refinery site provided by the State Health Department. If you drive past it on Old Highway 10, just west of Belfield, (that’s it running across the top of the photo) you’ll see a new scoria oil well pad. Don’t be fooled into thinking that’s the refinery site–the refinery site is waaaay bigger than that. The Health Department site inspectors report there is already utility work going on in the northeast corner of the refinery site. That’s the BNSF railroad tracks curving through the photo just above the refinery site.

Responding to O’Clair’s concern about possible leaks from the facility, Williams writes that such information requires “a level of design that is not available at this stage of the project nor would it typically be available until overall plant design is essentially complete.”

And later he writes “In summary, based on anticipated actual design and size of facility, Meridian anticipates the final component numbers will be at least 20% lower than the “model” counts used in the EPA guidance document which were utilized in the current emissions estimates.”

In other words, North Dakota Department of Health, “Just trust us.”

Well, excuse me, Mr. Williams, but what part of “After a thorough design is completed” don’t you understand?

I asked the folks at the Health Department what happens next. Will they resume the review of the application, based on the 13-page letter and the 90 pages of attachments? Well, no.

First they will review the 13-page letter and the 90 pages of attachments. That’ll take a few weeks. Then they will decide whether or not they believe Meridian’s numbers, absent a completed design. If so they will begin reviewing the whole application. That’ll take months. If not, they’ll send another letter to Meridian, reminding them that they want the numbers based on a completed design, not speculation.

What about Meridian’s claim that the Health Department used outdated information? The Health Department will take a look at that. A Department spokesman said the scientists there are “pretty up to date on those things.”

But, Y’know, this whole thing should boil down to more than just numbers. It really shouldn’t matter if particulates in the air are 20 or 30 or 50 parts per million. There shouldn’t be any particulates in the air next to a national park. There should not be a giant plume of steam and gases causing not just chemical pollution, but visual pollution, next to a national park.

There should not be hundreds of oil trucks a day kicking up giant clouds of dust heading into a refinery to dump their loads. What does all that say about a state that would allow that to happen? What kind of message is North Dakota sending, that we care so little about a park named after, and dedicated to, the greatest conservation president ever, that we would allow that to happen?

North Dakotans are vest button-popping proud of their national park, and justifiably so. The Bad Lands of the Little Missouri are our most cherished landscape, but if you read your park history, you know that we would not have that national park had not Roosevelt lived and ranched here as a young man. It’s his conservation legacy that got us a national park, and we need to defend and protect that legacy until our dying breaths.

No, it’s about more than the numbers. Our state’s leaders need to sit that California company’s executives down, look them in the eye, and say “Listen, assholes, move that damn refinery somewhere else. You don’t need to put it beside our national park.” Or something like that.

Governor Art Link

Today’s leaders need to remember the words of Governor Art Link, because right here, right now, they apply as much as they did in the 1970s:

“We do not want to halt progress; we do not plan to be selfish and say North Dakota will not share its energy resources. We simply want to ensure the most efficient and environmentally sound method of utilizing our precious coal and water resources for the benefit of the broadest number of people possible.”

“And when we are through with that and the landscape is quiet again, when the draglines, the blasting rigs, the power shovels and the huge gondolas cease to rip and roar and when the last bulldozer has pushed the spoil pile into place and the last patch of barren earth has been seeded to grass or grain, let those who follow and repopulate the land be able to say, our grandparents did their job well. The land is as good and in some cases, better than before.”

Gov. Doug Burgum. Let’s hope the resemblance is more than just physical.

“Only if they can say this, will we be worthy of the rich heritage of our land and its resources.”

Our rich heritage. Our national park. Are you listening, Governor Burgum?


Oh, and one more thing. I looked at the Meridian website and found that they have an office in Belfield, North Dakota, already.  A nice lady named Yvonne answers the phone at 701.566.1621. I asked if I could talk to Mr. Williams, their permitting guy, but she said he is in their California office, not in Belfield (imagine that). But she gave me his phone number. So if you want to call him and let him know what you think of his refinery, his number is 949.207.3815. Or you can send an e-mail to Info@MegiCorp.com, just mark it “Attention Tom Williams” in the subject line. Or if you want to do it the old-fashioned way, send a letter to Tom at P.O. Box 385, Belfield, ND 58622-0385. I’m sure he’ll be eager to hear from you.

5 thoughts on “Our Rich Heritage. Our National Park.

  1. Great commentary Jim. Hope our governor reads it. I simply do not understand how they can get away with submitting an application for a permit when they haven’t even finished the design. They seem to think we are a bunch of dumb peasants who will just fall over in front of the all knowing Californians. And their water application is even more incomplete.
    Where can I get a copy of their reply?


  2. I agree that this project should move somewhere else, not this close to TRNP. As a former North Dakotan, this Park is something to be cherished and protected. I visit each of the units at least a couple of times a year and always think of the legacy that Teddy Roosevelt left us with. Just how much territory do the extraction industries have to tear up to get to their prize? To me, it seems they won’t be satisfied until most of the landscape is damage. Western ND is on the bubble of being over exploited and less scenic. So thanks for your diligence and your words.


  3. President Trump met with Governor Burgum & other governors to encourage the sale of ‘public assets’ in order to pay for US infrastructure. No word yet on how that meeting panned out. https://www.usnews.com/…/burgum-other-leaders-talk…


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