Plans to build an oil refinery several miles from the south entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota moved a step closer to fruition Wednesday when a needed zoning change was approved by local officials. The decision by the Billings County Commission was quickly deemed inappropriate by the National Parks Conservation Association.
The refinery proposed by the Meridian Energy Group, Inc., would be built on 620 acres of land east of Theodore Roosevelt's South Unit, between Fryburg and Belfield. The location is adjacent to a BNSF rail loading facility at Fryburg; the rail line actually runs through the refinery site. Oil and natural gas pipelines are close by, too, according to Meridian. The property also is near the junction of Highway 85 and Interstate 94. Highway 85 is the main north-south arterial that tanker trucks can use to carry crude from the Bakken field to pipeline and rail terminals.
At peak capacity, the refinery could process 55,000 barrels of fuel a day.
“National Parks Conservation Association stands alongside the current and former superintendents of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in expressing our deep concern over and opposition to the Meridian Energy Group proposal," NPCA Northern Rockies Regional Director Bart Melton said in a release. “The inappropriateness of industrial development next to a national park named for the president who was a visionary for public lands conservation cannot be overstated. An oil refinery and associated industrial development would fundamentally and forever degrade the conservation values our nation committed to protect when we created Theodore Roosevelt National Park.”
Valerie Naylor, a former superintendent of the park, earlier this year wondered what the outcry would be if an oil refinery was proposed so close to Yellowstone National Park, or Grand Canyon National Park.
“They shouldn’t be putting an industrial park next to a national park," Ms. Naylor told the Traveler in April. "If this was being proposed within three miles of Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, or even Mount Rushmore, there would be a huge national outcry. I don’t know why there shouldn’t be a similar outcry about Theodore Roosevelt."
Back at NPCA, Mr. Melton worried about the impacts should the refinery gain final approval and go into production.
“Instead of beholding the stunning Painted Canyon overlook, national park visitors could look out at skies marked by plumes of smoke. Under the Clean Air Act, 48 national parks, including Theodore Roosevelt, should have the highest level of air quality protection," he said. "Pollution from sources like oil and gas development is among the most serious threats facing national parks, affecting visitor health, compromising scenic vistas and altering the climate. The proposal from Meridian would no doubt degrade both the viewshed and air quality of our prized Theodore Roosevelt National Park.”
The company still must obtain air and water quality permits from the state before it can move forward.