Birds Of A Feather . . .

In a surprising twist of fortune—or misfortune, I suppose, depending on your point of view—the company hired by Meridian Energy Group to design and build its oil refinery beside Theodore Roosevelt National Park is likely to file bankruptcy this week.

Bloomberg reported over the weekend “McDermott International Inc. is preparing to file for bankruptcy as soon as next week to address its more than $4 billion debt load, according to people with knowledge of the matter.”

Just over a year ago, in December of 2018, Meridian issued a press release which read, “Meridian Energy Group, Inc., the leading developer of innovative, advanced technology and environmentally-compliant oil refining facilities, announced today that the company has signed an agreement with McDermott out of Houston, Texas under which McDermott will finalize the Front-End Engineering Design “(FEED)” for the Meridian Davis Refinery in Billings County, North Dakota.

“Following the completion of the FEED effort, the Parties will be prepared to enter into a comprehensive turnkey Engineering, Procurement and Construction “(EPC)” Agreement to build the Davis Refinery. McDermott is a premier, fully – integrated provider of technology, engineering and construction solutions to the energy industry. Meridian has initiated site preparation and grading at the Davis site, and is proceeding with final design and equipment fabrication and procurement with full construction activities and foundation work resuming in Spring 2019.”

Well, like everything else they’ve been announcing for the past five years, Meridian was blowing smoke with its announcement that construction work would begin “in Spring 2019.”

Last week I shared information here that McDermott is one of a handful of companies under contract to Meridian which have stopped work on the refinery project because Meridian can’t pay its bills.

McDermott and three other big national engineering firms—SEH Design/Build, Vepica and Axens—and a local construction company, Martin Construction of Dickinson, all have unpaid bills in front of Meridian and have stopped work on the project, according to sources with inside information on Meridian. SEH has filed a $2.2 million mechanic’s lien against the company for unpaid bills, according to records in the Billings County Courthouse in Medora.

The only work which has been done at the refinery site, which is just three miles from the national park boundary, is the dirt work done by Martin, which consists of leveling the site and building an enormous dirt wall around what is now about a hundred-acre weed patch. Martin stopped work at the site in October of 2018. The weeds have benefited from a wonderfully rainy year, and are thick and lush.

Davis-Weed patch photo
Proposed Davis Refinery site. The best little weed patch in Billings County. The earth mover has been sitting there since October of 2018.

Meridian’s “Permit To Construct,” issued in June of 2018 by the North Dakota Health Department (now the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality), was set to expire last December—the DEQ required the company to begin construction of the refinery within 18 months of getting its permit—but the friendly folks at the DEQ issued an extension in December, just days before the permit expired.

My sources said Meridian owes McDermott more than $3.5 million. It’s not known whether that has contributed to McDermott’s financial woes, leading to bankruptcy. I’d say it’s likely.

Sources also say Meridian employees are not being paid, and it’s likely some legal action is being contemplated to try to collect back pay.

The press release issued a year ago by Meridian, reads, “William Prentice, CEO of Meridian, said of this agreement, ‘Meridian’s mission is to drive the reinvention of the refining industry, and the Davis Refinery is intended to be the prototype for a new type of refinery. To fulfill this mission, Meridian requires an EPC Partner that shares this vision, and that has the expertise and professionalism to complete Davis and follow-on projects in a reliable and cost-effective manner – Meridian believes that McDermott is that firm and is very happy to be entering into this agreement and finalizing another major milestone on the Davis project.’

“Lance Medlin, Meridian EVP of Projects on EPC with McDermott, ‘The Davis Refinery is being designed as a cutting-edge facility, setting a new standard in how emerging energy needs are addressed at regional levels. Meridian’s partnership with McDermott for the engineering and development of the Davis Refinery is another step in what has proven to be the consistently right direction in refining, and we’re proud to announce this next phase in the Davis Project.’”

Uh huh.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that McDermott, “The Houston-based company, which builds oil platforms and gas-export plants for energy producers, is negotiating a restructuring plan that could see its debt converted into equity with existing term-loan lenders getting the majority of the shares . . . Unsecured creditors would receive less than 10% of the equity along with warrants . . . On Friday, its 2024 bonds were trading around 9.5 cents on the dollar, according to Trace bond-trading data.”

Meridian and McDermott. Birds of a feather.

Stay tuned.

3 thoughts on “Birds Of A Feather . . .

  1. Good shot Jim.  It’s the kind of piece you can drag out for months.  It involves environment, Money owed to private individuals, potential graft and corruption.  Where did the initial funding originate?  Is someone driving a Mercedes paid for with government funding…….   Demand accountability; the books.  The PSC and Health Department backed this boondoggle without checking to see if it could be funded?  Simply put, the state of North Dakota was guaranteeing/providing collateral when it issued permits.  

    Darrell Dorgan


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