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.

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.”

Continue reading “Changing perceptions: CEO of company building $900 million Davis Refinery emphasizes environment”

Bighorn sheep count up 8 percent in western N.D. Badlands

The bighorn sheep population in the western North Dakota Badlands grew by 8 percent, according to a survey recently completed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Big game biologist Brett Wiedmann, who works out of the department’s Dickinson office, said the results are positive after the bighorn’s all-age die-off from bacterial pneumonia in 2014.

“To see an increase the year after the die-off began is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Wiedmann wrapped up the department’s count earlier this month. Game and Fish biologists count and classify all bighorn sheep in late summer and then recount lambs the following March, as they approach one year of age, to determine recruitment, according to a news release.

The survey revealed 292 bighorn sheep, a count that included 88 rams, 160 ewes and 44 lambs. Wiedmann said 76 percent of lambs survived the winter, an encouraging number.

The count is also a 3 percent increase from the state’s five-year average.

Thirty bighorns believed to be in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park weren’t included in the count, and is a number that Wiedmann called an estimate.

A bighorn sheep hunting season is tentatively scheduled to open later this year, but only if there isn’t a recurrence of bacterial pneumonia. The season’s status will be determined Sept. 1, after summer population surveys are completed.

“As it stands right now, we’re pretty confident we’re not losing many adults at this point, so we expect to have a season,” Wiedmann said.

Wiedmann said the pneumonia virus can persist in a bighorn sheep herd for decades.

“We’re by no means out of the woods,” he said.

The northern Badlands population, which was hit the hardest by the die-off, increased 13 percent from last year, according to survey figures. However, the southern Badlands population was down 19 percent.

Adult mortality rates among the bighorns “slowed significantly” last year, and the lamb survival rate compensated for the adult losses of 2014.

“The bad news is that many bighorns are still showing signs of pneumonia, so next year’s survey will be important in determining if the state’s population is continuing to recover from the disease outbreak, or if the pathogens are likely to persist and cause a long-term population decline,” Wiedmann said in a statement.

Dr. Dan Grove, a Game and Fish veterinarian, said disease testing last winter revealed that pneumonia pathogens were present in 16 of 22 bighorns tested.

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.”

Theodore Roosevelt National Park makes N.Y. Times’ travel list

The Little Missouri River fl ows through the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park on June 6, 2013.
The Little Missouri River fl ows through the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park on June 6, 2013.

NEW YORK — The New York Times’ travel editors have named Theodore Roosevelt National Park as one of its “52 Places To Go in 2016.”

The park came in at No. 5 in the newspaper’s rankings, as it spoke fondly of the 26th president who was a champion of conservation.

The Times wrote: “Fly into Dickinson in western North Dakota to visit the park named after him, where rolling grasslands dotted with bison collapse into the spectacular red, white and gold badlands of tumbling mud coulees.

“Lonely dirt roads bring you to one of the park’s less-visited attractions, Elkhorn Ranch, about 35 miles north of Medora, where Roosevelt arrived in 1884 as a young New Yorker ready to raise cattle and heal from the deaths of his wife and mother.”

The park was one of 10 American cities or landmarks to make the list, and was the first U.S. place listed.

Other U.S. locations included Park City, Utah; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Washington, D.C., Providence, R.I.; East Bay, Calif.; Rosine, Ky., St. Louis; Marfa, Texas; and Beaufort, S.C.

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.