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ND Supreme Court to Decide Fate of Refinery Near National Park

Meridian Energy has proposed an oil refinery within three miles of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Amy Meredith/Flickr)
Meridian Energy has proposed an oil refinery within three miles of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Amy Meredith/Flickr)
November 18, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. – The struggle over an oil refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park is in the hands of the North Dakota Supreme Court.

Key groups await the justices' decision on the case focusing on the state Public Service Commission's decision not to require a siting permit for the Meridian Energy project.

Sarah Vogel is an attorney, Dakota Resource Council member and former commissioner of agriculture. As a former regulator, she says Meridian's original proposal could come back to haunt the company.

The company first said the refinery would produce 55,000 barrels a day, but revised it to 49,500 – just under the limit that would require a permit from the PSC.

"Suddenly, they come along and say, 'Oh, no. It's going to be smaller than that,’” she relates. “’Just take our word for it. Trust us.' Why? Regulators aren't supposed to trust the regulated."

In May, a district court judge sided with the PSC and Meridian.

At the Supreme Court hearing last week, Meridian's attorney argued a decision against the company could lead to a slippery slope where challenges to siting could be made to other plants built over the past 20 years.

The refinery is located within three miles of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Vogel notes it's the state's only national park and a draw for tourists. She says the refinery could put a damper on that and affect nearby residents.

"What is that going to do to tourism and the farmers and ranchers and the truck traffic?” she asks. “The Public Service Commission should look at this carefully."

Scott Strand, the attorney representing the Environmental Law and Policy Center and Dakota Resource Council in the suit, says Meridian's statements about higher capacity is the basis for the case, but notes other issues could arise if the parties go through the hearing and discovery process.

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Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND