Dickinson refinery begins producing fuel from Bakken crude oil

 

Dakota Prairie Refining plant manager Dave Podratz, left, and MDU Resources public relations manager Tim Rasmussen stand outside the gates of the Dickinson, N.D., refinery on Monday after it started producing its first diesel fuel. (Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press)
Dakota Prairie Refining plant manager Dave Podratz, left, and MDU Resources public relations manager Tim Rasmussen stand outside the gates of the Dickinson, N.D., refinery on Monday after it started producing its first diesel fuel. (Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press)

RURAL DICKINSON — Dave Podratz, still wearing his hard hat, safety glasses and coveralls, walked into a conference room at Dakota Prairie Refining’s main office building Monday afternoon and sat a small glass jar containing clear liquid on the table.

The jar is soon to become a keepsake. It contains some of the first diesel fuel created from Bakken crude oil at the refinery facility west of Dickinson.

After more than two years of construction and testing, the approximately $425 million refinery — the first greenfield refinery built in the United States since 1976 — began making product over the weekend and is now storing it in preparation for sale.

“It’s been a long process,” said Podratz, the refinery’s plant manager.

Construction on the facility, which is jointly owned and operated by MDU Resources Group and Calumet Specialty Products Partners, began March 26, 2013, with a groundbreaking at the 318-acre site about four miles west of Dickinson.

Dakota Prairie Refining plant manager Dave Podratz stands just outside the gates of the Dickinson, N.D., refinery on Monday after it started producing its first diesel fuel. (Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press)
Dakota Prairie Refining plant manager Dave Podratz stands just outside the gates of the Dickinson, N.D., refinery on Monday after it started producing its first diesel fuel. (Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press)

RURAL DICKINSON — Dave Podratz, still wearing his hard hat, safety glasses and coveralls, walked into a conference room at Dakota Prairie Refining’s main office building Monday afternoon and sat a small glass jar containing clear liquid on the table.

The jar is soon to become a keepsake. It contains some of the first diesel fuel created from Bakken crude oil at the refinery facility west of Dickinson.

After more than two years of construction and testing, the approximately $425 million refinery — the first greenfield refinery built in the United States since 1976 — began making product over the weekend and is now storing it in preparation for sale.

“It’s been a long process,” said Podratz, the refinery’s plant manager.

Construction on the facility, which is jointly owned and operated by MDU Resources Group and Calumet Specialty Products Partners, began March 26, 2013, with a groundbreaking at the 318-acre site about four miles west of Dickinson.

Podratz said the refinery plans to steadily ramp up its production of diesel fuel, naphtha, atmospheric bottoms and a small amount of natural gas liquids. The refinery was operating at about half capacity Monday and Podratz said he hopes it is producing at full capacity by the end of May.

“It’s historic. Obviously, it hasn’t been done in 40 years,” Podratz said. “To be able to be a part of it from the beginning — from scratch — to put the organization together has been phenomenal.”

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, in a statement, called the refinery’s startup “good for North Dakota and for the nation.”

The refinery will process 20,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil each day, which will produce 7,000 barrels of diesel fuel.

Diesel sales are expected to begin this month and almost all of the fuel will stay in a 50-mile radius of Dickinson. Podratz said the local agriculture, railroad and energy industries will benefit most from the refinery. North Dakota’s diesel demand was at about 70,000 barrels a day in 2014. The Tesoro refinery in Mandan produces about 20,000 barrels a day.

“It reinforces that our state isn’t just creating energy now, but preparing for the future needs of our state,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement.

Naphtha and atmospheric tower bottoms are being loaded into rail cars near the refinery. Up to 6,500 barrels per day of naphtha, a diluent to transport heavy oil by pipeline or as a feedstock in gasoline production, and as much as to 6,000 barrels per day of atmospheric tower bottoms, which are used as a feedstock for lubricating oils, are expected to be produced each day. About 300 barrels of NGLs produced each day will be trucked away.

In total, of the 20,000 barrels of crude oil being refined each day, around 19,800 barrels of product will be produced.

“You know, obviously we’re thrilled, but there’s still some work to do here,” Podratz said. “The first bit of diesel fuel going into the tank is obviously a milestone. For that, we’re thrilled. But there’s still a lot of work to do here. That diesel fuel has got to be tested.”

Podratz will be around to get the refinery running, but will then be moving back to Calumet’s facility in Superior, Wis. He was hired to oversee construction and startup, and said he will likely work through June. He’ll then step aside and hand off operations to incoming plant manager Mary Trost.

Trost starts May 18. She is coming after serving as operations manager of BP’s Cherry Point Refinery in Blaine, Wash.

“She had an impressive experience background that fits exactly what we’re doing here,” said Tim Rasmussen, public relations manager for MDU Resources.

The refinery had 73 full-time employees as of Monday, plus about 20 contracted maintenance and security staff. More than 800 workers were on site at peak construction, Rasmussen said. Podratz estimates about 120 total workers are still on site.

“We need to invest in our nation’s energy infrastructure,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement. “The Dakota Prairie Diesel Refinery is a good example of the kind of infrastructure investments that will help ensure a bright energy future for North Dakota and our nation. We are pleased to see production underway at the refinery. This facility is creating jobs and helping to grow our domestic energy production, which in turn will help to make our nation more energy secure.”

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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