Ground broken for oil refinery on ND reservation

MAKOTI, N.D. — The Three Affiliated Tribes have broken ground for a $450 million oil refinery on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in northwestern North Dakota

The Thunder Butte Petroleum Services Refinery will be constructed in four phases over two years. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held Wednesday, after more than a decade of planning, according to The Forum and the Minot Daily News. Construction is expected to begin in August.

“We grew up poor. We were lucky if we had a pair of clean overalls,” Tribal Chairman Tex Hall said. “But our parents made sure we went to school and got educated. They did the best they could for us. They didn’t know we’d have this oil and gas resource, but now we do. It’s our responsibility to manage it, and we are.”

The refinery is named for one of the most sacred buttes on the reservation, according to Hall.

“It will be successful because of this name,” he said.

The refinery near the town of Makoti will have the capacity to process up to 20,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day into diesel fuel and other products. It will create as many as 100 full-time jobs.

“It’s really an important time for our people. It’s exciting,” said tribal representative Ken Hall. “But we have to be mindful going forward to not lose our culture.”

Not all tribal members approve of the project. Members of a group called Save Our Aboriginal Resources believe the project should have been put to a vote of tribal members.

Theodora Bird Bear, of Mandaree, said she worries about the effects on the reservation’s air and water.

“They can’t regulate it (oil development) now, so I can’t see how they can handle a refinery,” she said.

North Dakota has only one oil refinery, the Tesoro Corp. plant at Mandan, though refinery projects are being launched near the oil patch communities of Dickinson and Trenton.

Other energy projects also are taking off in North Dakota.

North Dakota corn growers are planning a $1 billion nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing plant near Grand Forks that will use natural gas currently being flared, or burned off, as an unwanted byproduct of oil production in the western part of the state, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple announced Wednesday that Oneok Partners has invested more than $1 billion in natural gas processing facilities and pipelines in western North Dakota that will help reduce flaring.