ND Supreme Court hears environmentalists' lawsuit over Davis Refinery

Aerial view of construction equipment in use for building the Davis Refinery near Belfield and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Courtesy of Meridian Energy Group

Meridian Davis will get another extension on air permits for the 49,500 barrel per day refinery it has proposed building near Theodore Roosevelt Park.

That’s after what state officials told the Williston Herald was a thorough review of a design-build contract the company has signed with McDermott International, a Texas-based engineering firm.

The contract satisfies a requirement to either begin construction or sign a significant and substantial contract related to that construction by Sept. 12.

DEQ Environmental Engineer David Stroh said state officials spent a few hours going through the contract with Meridian Davis officials to make that determination.

“We confirmed that they cannot terminate (the contract) or modify it without a significant loss to Meridian,” Stroh said. “Significant has been determined to be about 10 percent of the expected overall project cost.”

The contract is just the first hurdle the company has to clear to maintain its permits, Stroh added.

The company will still have to show regular progress in the coming months, and it cannot discontinue those efforts for any period greater than 18 months without losing the permit.

Given that the construction season in North Dakota is nearing a close, construction in this case means continued fabrication of parts and pieces that will be assembled at the site.

“We will be checking in with Meridian throughout the fall land winter here to make sure that (those) things are moving,” Stroh said. “And that will include things like progress updates. Milestones they’ve accomplished, getting updated project timelines, and really just to see that things aren’t just sitting stagnant.”

There’s also a third clause to retaining the permit, Stroh said, and that’s completion of the refinery within a “reasonable” time frame.

“Unfortunately that clause you know doesn’t have a direct date associated with it,” Stroh said. “But they can’t really because of the drastic differences there are in construction season throughout America. So what we’ll use here is really just ensure that they’re progressing at paces of construction that are consistent with, you know, our experience in the matter from North Dakota.”

Some site work has already begun at the site of the Davis Refinery, but the company had been told this was not enough to satisfy the requirement back in June, when the Department of Environmental Quality granted them a second extension to the start of construction.

Meridian Davis had told regulators then that the pandemic and protracted environmental litigation had used up a majority of the company’s first 18-month extension.

Among the suits the company faced was one over its air permits with North Dakota. The company plans to have measures in place to keep its emissions low enough to be permitted as a minor synthetic source of emissions. That will be a first in the nation for a refinery, if realized.

The site’s location and its air permit has attracted lawsuits from environmental groups, who said in court they doubted the company can achieve such low emissions.

Stroh has told the Williston Herald in previous interviews that all of the equipment Meridian proposes to use to accomplish its emissions goal can be found in isolation at other refineries. But, in this case, all of those are going to be brought together under one roof.

Stroh reiterated his confidence in the technical feasibility of achieving the air quality Meridian Davis has proposed, and said DEQ will be diligent in holding the company to it.

“Our scope is really on protecting the air quality,” he said. “So long as we have the information that we believe is, you know, accurate that shows how the company’s going to be doing that, that’s the world that David and the DEQ live in.”

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