Today’s announcement by the North Dakota Department of Health that it is preparing to issue an Air Quality Permit to Meridian Energy to build the Davis Oil Refinery three miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park should come as no surprise.
Once again, the state of North Dakota rolls over to the energy industry, but this time it’s threatening more than just North Dakota’s environment. This time it is threatening a national park. This time, maybe, the state has rolled too far.
The Health Department would seem to have a narrow focus—numbers—but the documents they released today to back up those numbers are rife with judgements. There’s never been a refinery built like this one, the company brags in its public relations efforts, so there’s really nothing to compare it to in arriving at those numbers.
But there are a lot of people concerned about a lot more than just some numbers that purport to show that pollution from the refinery will not cause deterioration of the park’s Class I Air Quality Status.
In its announcement today, the Health Department said “A complete review of the proposed project indicates that the facility is expected to comply with the applicable federal and state air pollution rules and regulations.”
Good. That means, if the scientists at the Health Department are right, no matter where the refinery is located, in their judgement, it will not pollute North Dakota air.
But this is about more than air pollution. This is about putting a major industrial complex with stacks emitting big white plumes on the entrance road to the gate of a national park named for America’s greatest conservation president.
What are we thinking?
Part of the Health Department’s decision to issue a permit for the plant is based on the fact that Meridian is claiming to be a “minor source” of pollution, rather than a “major source.” I can’t go into a bunch of details about that, but basically it means that, because the Department accepts that claim, the refinery is subject to different rules when it comes to determining if it will affect the park’s Class I Air Quality status. Less stringent rules.
That’s the first sham the refinery folks are pulling.
The second is, they are avoiding having to get a siting permit from the Public Service Commission because they say they are going to build a refinery smaller than what they earlier applied for to the Health Department and the State Water Commission. In North Dakota, a refinery planning to process more than 50,000 barrels of oil per day must go through a stringent siting process, to determine the impact of such a facility on the surrounding area, such as a national park. Meridian’s applications to the Health Department, for an Air Quality Permit, and to the North Dakota Water Commission, for a water permit, are for a 55,000 barrels per day refinery. The siting permit process goes beyond just a numbers game. Let me quote from the PSC’s website:
“The purpose of the Siting Act is to ensure that the location, construction, and operation of energy conversion facilities and transmission facilities will produce minimal adverse effects on the environment and upon the welfare of the citizens of this state by providing that no energy conversion facility or transmission facility shall be located, constructed, and operated within this state without a certificate of site compatibility or a route permit issued by the Commission.
“The legislature stated that it is the policy of this state to site energy conversion facilities and to route transmission facilities in an orderly manner compatible with environmental preservation and the efficient use of resources. Site and routes should be chosen to minimize adverse human and environmental impact while ensuring continuing system reliability and integrity and ensuring that energy needs are met and fulfilled in an orderly and timely fashion.”
Well, good for the Legislature! I think that law dates back to 1977. It’s a pretty safe bet it wasn’t passed any time in the last ten years.
Again, the trigger for requiring a siting permit is 50,000 barrels per day. But now Meridian now has changed its story, and says it is only going to process 49,500 barrels per day, sneaking in under the 50,000 barrel limit and avoiding the siting process.
To her credit, Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak said today she wants to meet with Meridian officials to discuss the proposed location. She’s not been happy with the refinery company’s shenanigans. She’s going to meet with Meridian CEO Bill Prentice on December 19. I think I’m going to be there too.
I’ve asked Julie to get the Governor involved in this process as well. Between them maybe they could convince the refinery people to move the plant ten miles east, maybe even 20. There’s another refinery already located just west of Dickinson, about 20 miles east of the proposed location of this one. And it sits next to a trans-load facility with the capacity to move hundreds of tank cars of refined products a day to eastern markets. I’d think that is a good location for another refinery.
But back to the Health Department. For now, the Health Department says Meridian complies with Chapter 33-15-14 of the North Dakota Administrative Code, which requires the facility to obtain a Permit to Construct and a Permit to Operate. In other words, they believe the pollution projections given to them by Meridian. Here are their words:
“The facility has met all requirements necessary to obtain a Permit to Construct. Once the Davis Refinery completes construction and meets the permit to construct requirements, a facility inspection will be performed by the Department. Upon a satisfactory inspection and performance testing, the Davis Refinery will be issued a Permit to Operate.”
Here are a couple other excerpts from today’s announcement by the Health Department:
“Chapter 33-15-15- Prevention of Significant Deterioration of Air Quality. This chapter adopts the federal provisions of the prevention of significant deterioration of air quality (PSD) program. A facility is subject to PSD review if it is classified as a “major stationary source” under Chapter 33-15-15. The Davis Refinery will be subject to federally enforceable emission limitations via a synthetic minor permit to construct to remain below “major source thresholds” and therefore is not subject to PSD review under this chapter.” (Note there the significance of being classified as a minor source rather than a major source.)
“Chapter 33-15-16- Restriction of Odorous Air Contaminants. This chapter restricts the discharge of objectionable odorous air contaminants which measures seven odor concentration units or greater outside the property boundary. Based on Department experience with sources having similar emissions, the facility is expected to comply with this chapter.” (Basing this decision on possible sources with similar emissions, this does not pass the smell test, in my humble opinion. They ever been in Mandan when the wind is from the northeast?)
“Chapter 33-15-19 – Visibility Protection. This chapter applies to major stationary sources as defined in section 33-15-15-01. The facility will not be a major stationary source and therefore is not subject to the requirements of this chapter. Given the minor source levels of the visibility impairing air pollutants, such as NOx, SO2, and PM2.5, it is expected that the Davis Refinery will not adversely contribute to visibility impairment within the three units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (nearest federal Class I areas).” (Note again the different standards for major and minor sources. And what about the plume rising hundreds of feet high above the park?)
Finally, here’s the summary at the end of today’s announcement:
“Summary: A complete review of the proposed project indicates that the facility is expected to comply with the applicable federal and state air pollution rules and regulations. Therefore, Meridian Energy Group, Inc. has met all the requirements for obtaining a Permit to Construct and a draft Permit to Construct will be made available for public comment. Given the level of public interest, a 30-day public comment period (PCP) and concurrent 30-day EPA review period is required prior to permit issuance. In addition, the Department will hold a public meeting followed by a public hearing in Dickinson, North Dakota for interested parties. Upon completion of the PCP, the Department will address all comments applicable to the state and federal air quality rules and regulations and make a final determination regarding the issuance of a Permit to Construct for the Davis Refinery.”
The public comment period begins this Friday, December 8, and runs through January 26, 2018. Sharpen your pencils. Written comments should be sent to the North Dakota Department of Health, Division of Air Quality, 918 East Divide Ave, 2nd Floor, Bismarck, ND 58501-1947. Or e-mailed to AirQuality@nd.gov.
Mark your calendars now to attend the public hearing on the refinery on January 17, at 5:30 p.m. MST, at Dorothy Stickney Auditorium in May Hall at Dickinson State University. That’s a big room. Let’s fill it up.
Here’s today’s announcement, if you want to take a look. It’s a few hundred pages.
I am reminded that President John F. Kennedy kept a small wooden plaque on his desk in the Oval Office for days like this. It read “Oh, God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”
Indeed, Big Oil and North Dakota Government rule a mighty sea.