Changing perceptions: CEO of company building $900 million Davis Refinery emphasizes environment

BISMARCK — Meridian Energy Group CEO Bill Prentice said his company wants to make southwest North Dakota home to an oil refinery that could change the industry, and he’s ready to win over the people trying to prevent them from doing that.

Meridian has proposed building the Davis Refinery in Billings County just west of Belfield and three miles from the outskirts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit.

The $900 million refinery would initially convert 27,500 barrels of Bakken crude oil into gasoline, diesel fuel and various refined products, and could expand to handle 55,000 barrels a day. However, Meridian’s plan expectedly has been met with pushback from park officials and environmental advocates across the state who believe the refinery would impact the park’s pristine air quality.

Prentice, speaking Tuesday at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, emphasized his company’s commitment to the environment and said in an interview that the industry eventually has to change mindsets of what it means for an oil refinery to move into an area.

“I think it’s going to define how the hydrocarbon processing industry looks at being a neighbor of everybody,” Prentice said of the Davis Refinery. “There’s no longer going to be this solution that you kick us out into some industrial ghetto. This industry has to know how to build a plant that can be right there (near the park), and that’s what we’re going to do.”

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Building through the bust: Southwest ND oilfield service company leaders say they’re using 2015 slowdown to improve their businesses

MBI Energy Services CEO and founder Jim Arthaud stands by one of his trucks on Oct. 8, 2015, at his company’s Belfield headquarters. (Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press)
MBI Energy Services CEO and founder Jim Arthaud stands by one of his trucks on Oct. 8, 2015, at his company’s Belfield headquarters. (Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press)

Jim Arthaud doesn’t look like a man at the helm of a multimillion-dollar oilfield services company.

Wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap with blue jeans, he sits in the office of his senior vice president and watches The Weather Channel while discussing the price of oil.

“Oil’s up today,” he says with a smile. “It’s about at $50. It’s only got $50 to go.”

The 60-year-old CEO and founder of MBI Energy Services follows that statement with a smile and laughter, knowing all too well the price for a barrel of crude oil isn’t doubling anytime soon.

That Arthaud can joke about the price of oil is a telling sign that not all is doom and gloom in the western North Dakota oilfields — at least not yet. Still, following eight years of substantial growth tied directly to the Bakken oil boom, Arthaud looks back on the past 10 months — a unique type of oil bust, as he puts it — and knows he should have seen these days coming.

“I’d say it surprised a lot of people and it surprised me,” he said. “It was definitely a dramatic downturn that a lot of people didn’t see. Obviously, the writing was on the wall. We all should have seen it.”

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