Exec: Davis Refinery Not Affected by Dakota Prairie Refinery Sale

BELFIELD — The company trying to build an oil refinery just three miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Billings County isn’t slowing down its efforts, even after the Dakota Prairie Refinery sold at a loss earlier this week.

Thomas Johnson, chief operating officer of California-based Meridian Energy Group, said Tuesday’s sale of the Dickinson diesel refinery doesn’t affect his company’s goal of building the Davis Refinery, which would process 55,000 barrels of Bakken crude a day.

“We did economic modeling, what our costs are going to be and concluded that we’re going to make some profits there in the Bakken and the Belfield area,” Johnson said.

Tesoro bought the Dakota Prairie Refinery from MDU Resources Group and Calumet Specialty Products, which broke ground on the refinery in 2013 and opened it in May 2015.

Johnson pointed to the Davis Refinery’s efforts to build a refinery that’ll produce gasoline, jet fuel and ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel as the difference between its plans and the Dakota Prairie Refinery, which processed 20,000 barrels of oil into around 8,000 barrels of diesel fuel a day, along with a set of byproducts.

MDU Resources spent $430 million on the refinery and reported that it lost $7.2 million in its first quarter of operations. The refinery’s construction was plagued by cost overruns and construction delays.

Johnson said he was involved in the building of PetroMax Refining, a 25,000-barrel-a-day refinery in Houston that opened last year, and said Meridian is using a similar business model with the Davis Refinery.

“We were successful last year, so we fully anticipate being successful this time,” Johnson said. “The key is not to get into a situation like Dakota Prairie. It’s unfortunate what happened, but it is a good lesson to learn.”

In an effort to rally community support for the Davis Refinery, Meridian is hosting a public gathering at 5 p.m. Tuesday atop Buck Hill, the highest point in Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit.

Opponents of the refinery have said it will be clearly visible from Buck Hill, and have used that as ammunition to stop it from being built.

“Basically, we want to give everybody kind of an opportunity to see that the view from Buck Hill towards the refinery,” said Adam Williams, Meridian’s director of corporate communications. “We’re going to have some surveyors out and we’ll be floating several large weather balloons at the exact height as the top of the crude tower from grade. We want to do all we can to give people an opportunity to see what the effects will be, or if there’s any visual line of sight from Buck Hill. My guess is it won’t be too visible from the naked eye.”

The Billings County Commission is scheduled to discuss the Davis Refinery for its third straight monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Williams said Meridian CEO Bill Prentice plans to attend the meeting, along with several other of the company’s key players.

Editorial: Medora won’t be the same without its ‘First Lady’

By The Dickinson Press Editorial Board

MEDORA — Medora won’t be the same without Sheila Schafer.

It won’t be the same without her sitting on the porch of her log cabin home, greeting tourists with a wave and a smile. And it won’t be the same without the Fourth of July fireworks party on the cabin’s front lawn.

It won’t be the same without Sheila singing and clapping as she sits front and center at the Medora Musical — the show she and her late husband, businessman Harold Schafer, helped start 51 years ago that sparked the revitalization of the town that is now North Dakota’s biggest tourist attraction.

Sheila Schafer, the magical matriarch of modern Medora and the woman commonly known as the town’s “First Lady” died Wednesday at age 90 after fighting cancer and other illnesses for several years.

Sheila will be remembered for her class, charm and cheerfulness, and as an ambassador not only for Medora but also North Dakota.

Exemplifying the “magic” that many spoke of when they talked about her, Sheila hiked up Buck Hill in Theodore Roosevelt National Park on her 90th birthday — just the same as she had done for several years — before settling in for what would be her final summer in Medora.

Last July, she was honored as the Medora Musical celebrated its 50th anniversary. At a ceremony, Sheila recalled a lifetime of memories on the stage that she called one of the “most magnificent settings in the West.”

“Thank you for 50 years of great memories,” she told the audience.

In a couple of months, tourists will once again begin descending on Medora for the summer.

Every day, people will line the streets to shop, eat ice cream, visit museums and take in the beauty of the Badlands. Crowds will pack the Burning Hills Amphitheatre for the Medora Musical.

But something will be forever missing.

Without Sheila Schafer, summer in Medora just won’t be the same.

 

The Dickinson Press Editorial Board consists of Publisher Harvey Brock and Managing Editor Dustin Monke.

 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park gears up for a busy year

MEDORA — Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s top official believes it could be a big year for the western North Dakota people’s playground.

Planning is already underway for the National Park Service’s yearlong centennial celebration, and Park Superintendent Wendy Ross said TRNP is anticipating a sizable boost in visitors thanks to both centennial events and North Dakota Tourism’s nationwide marketing push that highlights the park.

“The centennial is just big,” Ross said.

The publicity push, featuring actor and Minot native Josh Duhamel, includes TV commercials filmed in the park’s South Unit near Medora last summer that are now beginning to air nationally.

“I’m very optimistic,” Ross said. “I think our summer is going to be amazing.”

Boosting visitors

Ross became acting superintendent in November 2014 following Valerie Naylor’s retirement. The “acting” label was dropped last July and she moved into the role permanently.

Her goal is to capture a larger audience and get visitors to the park who may have never been there, or even heard of it, before.

TRNP’s 2015 attendance figures show it had more than 586,000 counted visitors — an increase of about 26,000 people from 2014. However, Ross said those numbers may not be entirely accurate after park officials discovered some of its people counters hadn’t been working for weeks at a time. That glitch has been fixed, she said.

“I’m really concerned about capturing what we get in terms of visitation this year,” Ross said.

Interestingly, Ross said the park is noticing a small demographic shift in who frequents the area.

“We’re just seeing more foreign visitors,” she said. “… We see people who don’t traditionally go to national parks. They’re curious about what it’s all about.”

Ross said she’s looking for opportunities for the park to become relevant to what she calls a “curious generation” beginning to travel more

“The generation that didn’t travel to national parks as children,” she said. “That’s really our opportunity now with all this promotion.”

Being ranked as the No. 5 place in the world to see in 2016 by The New York Times may play into that too, she said.

Ross said park officials worked with the Times’ staff for the piece, so they knew it was coming. But they didn’t realize the park would rank so high on the list, or be mentioned alongside some more exotic locations.

“It’s been great positive press,” she said. “You couldn’t ask for anything better than to be on that list.”

Oil and tourism

Ross said summer tourism now hops back into the front seat of North Dakota’s economy after low oil prices hurt the state’s energy industry. However, the byproduct of low oil prices is lower gas prices low, which benefits the park with both in-state and out-of-state visitors.

“When that starts decreasing, in terms of price, tourism comes up and we see that everywhere, in all national parks,” Ross said.

She said the park’s North Unit, about 15 miles south of still-booming Oil Patch hub Watford City — where the population has increased from 1,600 to around 7,000 in the past five years — has become the park’s “new front door.”

“There are all these countries represented in Watford City that were never there before,” Ross said. “It’s our chance to be relevant to a new generation and a new group of people, to think about that.”

There are challenges up north, however.

The park is working to replace its North Unit Visitors Center, which is currently a collection of portable buildings. But a replacement may be a couple years away from reality, Ross said, because of budgetary concerns. Still, she’s trying to make the North Unit more of a priority.

“It used to be a sleepy backwater, real wilderness experience,” Ross said.

TRMF’s involved in NPS centennial

The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation plans to play a role in the National Park Service Centennial as well, said Justin Fisk, the foundation’s marketing director.

The foundation is sending Roosevelt impersonator Joe Wiegand away from Medora for the entire month of June to travel the country doing presentations and performances to raise awareness about the park.

The Medora Musical will also “very, very likely” have the centennial central to its daily performance, Fisk said.

“They’re writing the show right now and it’s looking cool, and they’re looking for the best way to include the National Park Service Centennial in that,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Fisk said over the next month, more centennial tie-ins and plans will be finalized between the park service and the foundation.

“With the partnership, you can actually get a lot more done,” Ross said. “You can use community members and partners to fill in some of the nuts-and-bolts gaps, but you can also create those meaningful ties your communities.”

Authorities search for man in Billings County: Alleged car thief who fled scene of accident still on the loose

NEAR GORHAM — Several local law enforcement agencies, including the Southwest Tactical Team, spent all of Thursday afternoon and evening searching for a man who allegedly rolled a stolen pickup truck he was driving on Highway 85 about 12 miles north of Belfield and fl ed from the scene.

The man, who as of 9:30 p.m. still hadn’t been located, is described as being white, and around 6-foot, 180 pounds with sandy brown hair. According to a witness, he was last seen wearing a red-brown plaid shirt and had an arm injury likely caused by the rollover, Billings County Sheriff Pat Rummel said.

The 1996 blue Ford F-350 pickup, which had been reported stolen in Billings, Mont., came to a rest on its side in a ditch after the rollover. According to a witness, Rummel said, the man exited the vehicle and ran into a sunflower field west of the highway near milemarker 87.

Authorities are unsure if the man is armed, but said.22-caliber shells were found in the pickup. Because of this, authorities are asking the public not to approach anyone fitting his description and to instead call 911 immediately.
Continue reading “Authorities search for man in Billings County: Alleged car thief who fled scene of accident still on the loose”

Wendy Ross named superintendent of TNRP

Wendy Ross has officially been named the superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Submitted Photo)
Wendy Ross has officially been named the superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Submitted Photo)

The National Park Service’s choice for the next superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park was already in the position.

The NPS on Wednesday officially announced Wendy Ross the new head of the park.

She had assumed the role of acting superintendent on Nov. 1 following former Superintendent Valerie Naylor’s Oct. 31 retirement. Her full-time assignment is scheduled to begin July 12, according a news release.

Ross, a 21-year veteran of the NPS, had served as the superintendent of Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site in Stanton since April 2011.

Continue reading “Wendy Ross named superintendent of TNRP”

Wild stallion

A wild horse in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit stands atop a ridge near the scenic route while taking a break from grazing on Sunday afternoon near Medora.
A wild horse in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit stands atop a ridge near the scenic route while taking a break from grazing on Sunday afternoon near Medora.

I took a drive through Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit near Medora on Sunday and captured a couple photographs of the park’s wild horses, including one close-up with a lone stallion. For more photos, check out my photo site.