Last week William Prentice, the slickster CEO of Meridian Energy, which wants to build an oil refinery 2 ½ miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park, blew a bunch of smoke up the ass of a young reporter for The Dickinson Press, and the kid, who’s actually a pretty good writer, wrote a real puff piece about how great the refinery is going to be for western North Dakota.
Worse, the Bismarck Tribune reprinted most of it this week. Even worse, Forum Communications’ other North Dakota papers, in Fargo, Grand Forks and Jamestown, all printed the story, under the headline “Refinery near national park would bring jobs, revenue to western ND county.” You could read it here if you want to. This kind of positive publicity coup for a controversial project had old Bill Prentice drooling out of both sides of his mouth.
Prentice said taxes collected from the refinery would provide Billings County “funds to improve schools, roads and anything else. The influx of money and workers could even help return a grocery store to the town, as Belfield has lacked one for years now.”
“Everything needs a little bit of tender loving care,” Prentice said.
P.S. Belfield is in Stark County, not Billings.
Now maybe the young reporter is going to do another story sometime talking about the problems a refinery near a national park poses. If so, he might want to talk to some folks from the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), one of the fiercest and most stubborn opponents of the refinery’s proposed location. That’s the nonprofit organization whose only agenda is to support and seek protection for national parks all over the U.S. Because of this severe threat to North Dakota’s national park, they’ve jumped into this battle with both feet.
To that end, NPCA commissioned an independent analysis of Meridian’s application materials for an air quality permit from the North Dakota Department of Health. In their application, Meridian claims that the proposed refinery is a “minor” source of pollution. Uh Huh.
In her analysis of the application, Dr. Phyllis Fox, an environmental and chemical engineer from Florida who has prepared air permit applications on behalf of refiners and who has reviewed and commented on hundreds of permit applications, says the refinery “is almost certainly a ‘major’ source of pollution that would release substantial amounts of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants–all harmful to human and ecological health.” Uffda.
The designation matters, Dr. Fox says, because unlike major sources of pollution, a minor source permit does not require a rigorous assessment of pollution impacts as well as the best pollution controls. A major source permit requires serious scrutiny, which Meridian wants to avoid.
Her analysis also found that Meridian significantly underestimated or omitted emissions in its application from sources including flaring events; startup, shutdown, and malfunction; and associated equipment, among other sources.
Well. That’s not surprising. As I said in an earlier post here, Meridian is one sleazy company. They’ve told outright lies to the North Dakota Public Service Commission to avoid undergoing an environmental assessment in order to get a site permit. And now we learn they’ve lied to the State Health Department as well. I asked both those agencies to comment on Dr. Fox’s report.
Craig Thorstenson, the environmental engineer for the Health Department who is responsible for these kinds of things (and who just happens to be the nephew of my Hettinger High School wrestling coach, Chuck Thorstenson, a really good coach who won the state championship and was named North Dakota High School Wrestling Coach of the Year in 1966, the year AFTER I graduated) replied “We are still reviewing the Meridian application to determine if the application is complete and if emissions from the facility will be expected to remain below the major source thresholds. It will likely be at least 2 months before we make a determination.”
Craig also told me that when the review is done, there will be a 30-day public comment period, and he said Dr. Fox’s report will be considered if she submits it to the Health Department during that time period. My guess is they will take it seriously. Bill Prentice won’t like that.
Prentice, by the way, was trying to blow smoke up Craig Thorstenson’s ass in the Dickinson Press story too. Seeking to get out ahead of Dr. Fox’s report, Prentice said “The North Dakota Department of Health is as knowledgeable, if not more knowledgeable than any other agency we’ve worked with on a complex project, including federal agencies. They are a world-class organization.”
More blowing smoke: As far as I can tell, Meridian Energy is a brand new company and this is their first project, so I’m not sure what agencies, “including federal agencies,” they’ve “worked with.” Kind of a Trumpian claim, in keeping with the times.
I do think the Health Department is doing a pretty thorough review of the application. I won’t be surprised if they agree with Dr. Fox.
Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, to whom I have no such close association as I do with Craig Thorstenson and his now deceased Uncle Chuck (although I often sit behind Julie’s brother in church—I sit in the 3rd row on the left side because I am hard of hearing and that’s the spot with the best acoustics, and I don’t want to miss Msgr. Chad Gion’s homilies, because they’re very good–and Mike and his family usually sit right in front of me) replied “Per the law, the PSC can’t require them to site the project. If they begin building without a permit then we could at that point take legal action against them if we believe they are violating the siting law. That’s the legal landscape. Our staff is working on a meeting with the company so we can speak directly with them about their plans, timeline, that site, their technology, etc., rather than through letters.”
I think Julie and her fellow PSC members are serious too. I don’t think this is a done deal yet with either of those agencies. We’ll see in a few months.
Meanwhile, don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers. If you want something to believe, read the NPCA press release, complete with a link to Dr. Fox’s thorough, 28-page report, here.