Residents learn more about proposed oil refinery at Community Town Hall meeting

Harry Lipsiea Journal Reporter
Hundreds of concerned citizens filled the Robert Fawcett Auditorium at LRSC Monday evening for a Town Hall meeting concerning the proposed oil refinery that may be built in the city’s industrial park.

"It's all part of the process," Boris Weiss, chairman of Eagles Ledge Energy Ltd., stated several times Monday evening at the Robert Fawcett Auditorium on the campus of Lake Region State College.

As the leader of a Canadian-based company, that has proposed the construction of a clean fuels oil refinery near Devils Lake, Weiss felt it was important to hold a town hall meeting to have an opportunity to receive questions and concerns of area residents.

While not a mandatory step, the Eagles Ledge Energy Ltd. chairman felt that having an opportunity to hear from the community during a town hall meeting was absolutely necessary before making any decisions or moving forward on the project.

"Before you invest in something like this, it is absolutely essential to know that your company and the potential project is welcomed to be in the community," Weiss told the Devils Lake Journal Monday evening. "The only appropriate way to do that is holding a meeting open to the public."

Another purpose was to guage if there was any public interest in the proposed project from the Devils Lake community. It was a question that didn't take long to answer as the Robert Fawcett Auditorium, one of the community's largest venues, quickly filled up nearing its seated capacity.

"The turnout was exceptional," Rachel Lindstrom, Forward Devils Lake executive director, commented. Forward Devils Lake has had discussions with Eagles Ledge Energy Ltd., about a possible refinery beginning in September. "It shows that the public interest in the project is very high which is great to see."

The plan

Eagles Ledge has proposed a 20,000 barrel refinery on a 354-acre parcel of land about two miles away from Devils Lake. There, the upgrading of Bakken crude oil would be upgraded into ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel.

Currently, the company has announced its intentions to invest $200 million into project and hasn't asked for incentives or additional funds from the city.

Both Weiss and Robert Woolley, president and CEO of Triad Engineering Ltd., which has partnered with Eagles Ledge to assist with all aspects of the refinery, note that North Dakota is a huge attraction for this type of project due to the state's energy environment.

"Being able to utilize the crude oil in North Dakota would be a huge benefit of this project," Weiss stated.

Woolley added, "There is a huge amount of the Bakken crude oil that is being exported out of state right now. Being able to take that oil and create diesel which will be available to local consumers would be a huge benefit to area."

Woolley gave an in-depth presentation of the proposed refinery and specifically noted the different construction details to meet environmental standards of both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the North Dakota Department of Health.

Also presenting information were officials from the North Dakota Department of Commerce, North Dakota Department of Health and an officer in charge of due diligence for the project.

Crowd input

In addition of the presentations from the panel, a question and answer portion of the event gave residents the opportunity to give feedback and find more information on the possible refinery.

Many individuals used their allotted time to ask questions while others simply stated comments about the proposals. A majority of the crowd that spoke thanked the panel for the in-depth presentation.

The most common concern regarding the refinery from area residents was the potential environmental impact. Specifically, many citizens asked about if the refinery's emissions could negatively affect the area's water sources.

Panels members noted that its impact on the lake would be investigated and clarified during the permit phase of the project which has not been yet begun.

Many questions regarded issues that could arise from the smell, noise and sight of the facility.

"Why so close to town and so many residences?" several asked during the town hall event. These citizens wondered if that would be part of the standards set by the department of health.

Terry O'Clair, director of the air quality division at the North Dakota Department of Health, noted that the project officials have complete control over the site of the refinery.

"It doesn't matter where the refinery is located, there are numerous water and air quality standards that must be met to pass the permitting stage," O'Clair commented.

Project officials pointed out that access to the Embridge pipeline, rail, highway and natural gas were all factors in choosing the potential location.

In addition to concerns and questions, there were a number of residents that noted their support and optimism about the project. A number of individuals pointed out the benefits of having a local diesel source as well as being to utilize North Daktoa Bakken crude oil.

Successful event

The panel, during a press conference held after the town hall meeting, felt that the event went very well.

Officials were particularly impressed with the turnout and high interest in the project.

"You could see how involved this community is," Weiss commented. "That says a lot about Devils Lake."

The Eagles Ledge representative noted that he views the community feedback from the project as positive. He also acknowledges that there were legitimate questions and concerns brought forward by the crowd Monday evening.

"I was extremely impressed by the questions tonight. They are similar thoughts that I would have if there was a proposed project like this in my community," he stated.

Panel members applauded the audience for its engagement and interest in the crowd.

"What a respectful audience," Earl Pomeroy, who is performing due diligence on behalf of Alston and Bird Law Firm, added. "You have a crowd made up of individuals with different opinions and mindsets, but they listened and were extremely courteous of the thoughts of others."

Early in the ball game

Devils Lake Mayor Dick Johnson pointed out that receiving more information and giving Eagles Ledge the opportunity to hear feedback about the project was a positive step. He is quick to note that it is part of the first step.

"This process is in its infancy. We are very early in the ball game," he stated. "I felt like it was a successful town hall meeting."

Johnson also said that there will be continued opportunity for public input if the project continues to move forward. Public hearings would be held for proceedings such as environmental permits and annexation.

Weiss confirmed what the mayor pointed out by saying that the process in its initial stages. It is currently anticipated that the application for operating the refinery will be submitted in January of 2015.

"We are working to complete due diligence and listening to the questions of the area's residents," Weiss said.

The next step of the process is taking the questions and concerns from the evening to produce a report. Once the report and due diligence is completed, a press release will be distributed and made available to the public by Forward Devils Lake.