The path for constructing the Meridian Davis Refinery in Billings County is now clear for take-off, Meridian Energy Group Chairman and CEO William Prentice says, with the recent ruling by the North Dakota Supreme Court that the Public Service Commission rightly stayed out of the plant’s siting.
The court case over jurisdiction was the last legal hurdle facing the company, and, now that it is out of the way, taking off is exactly what the company plans to do.
“The delay is actually in some regards working in our favor,” Prentice told the Williston Herald. “Our guys down in Houston have not been sitting around doing nothing.”
Additional engineering work has been completed during the two-year delay caused by litigation from environmental groups against the plant. That has enabled the adoption of better — and greener — technology.
“Knowing that there is now a refiner out there that will be focusing solely on light sweet crude from shale, a lot of tech companies are sending in solutions to better handle that,” Prentice said. “We do have several different ways we can evolve our technology that really weren’t there even five years ago. The last couple of years waiting for this litigation to be resolved, there’s been a lot of fine-tuning, and it’s going to be a better project.”
Among these innovations are new catalysts that had not been developed even as little as two years ago. Catalysts are used to help prevent the formation of carbon dioxide and monoxide emissions.
The plant will also be using corn or canola oil to adjust the hydrogen content of its diesel. The equivalent amount of crude will be backed out, to retain the plant’s production below 50,000 barrels per day.
The coronavirus pandemic has hurt the energy sector’s capital markets, Prentice acknowledged.
“We are looking at a landscape that is a lot different even than it was six months ago in terms of who our financial partners will be,” he said. “The election that is coming up has everyone worried, so we will see if that has an impact on us. But as far as I’m concerned, now we are clear to work within these constraints to finish up our project financing and finish construction next year.”
Prentice says a refinery like Davis would fit in every shale basin in the United States. They could help create a domestic market for light sweet crude, and usher in petroleum products that have a much smaller carbon footprint than those Americans now burn in their vehicles and use to heat their homes.
“If you took half the U.S. refining capacity and replaced it with our type, the carbon footprint of America would go down by 87 million tons per year,” Prentice said. “That’s why I say that people who care about the environment but don’t support our plant are being hypocritical.”
Meridian officials have previously told the Williston Herald that the Davis Refinery in North Dakota will be the greenest in the nation, if not the world itself.
Because it is brand new, it can start out with the latest, cutting edge technology, ridding itself of the emissions that more usually come with a refinery.
Scrubbers at the Meridian plant will remove sulfur from the fuel gas that comes in, to prevent sulfur-based pollution, or SOx, while ultra low burners will prevent formation of nitrogen-based pollutants, called NOx.
Catalysts meanwhile, will prevent formation of carbon-based pollutants like carbon dioxide and monoxide. State-of-the-art optical gas imaging systems will meanwhile monitor for VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, around the clock.
All of these improvements will allow the company to keep projected emissions below 100 tons per year, qualifying it as a synthetic minor source, according to its air permits from North Dakota. That’s a first for a refinery in the United States. But it also attracted one of the environmental lawsuits against the plant, to contest that designation.
That suit was cleared earlier this year in June. Environmental groups have said they will keep fighting to block construction of the plant, which will be just 3 miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park when completed.
Prentice believes Meridian will be able to build green refineries regardless of which political party happens to be in office at any given time. By designing the facilities to be smaller, and keeping the plants under state, rather than federal, jurisdiction, they hope to immunize their efforts against partisan rancor.
“Unpredictable politics have made it so that we adopt strategies so we don’t care which party is in power any more,” Prentice said. “We just do our thing. We know sooner or later the country will come around to valuing the contribution we are making.”