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Fort Berthold residents question proposed oil refinery

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TWIN BUTTES, N.D. (AP) – Residents of the Fort Berthold Reservation have questions about how a proposed oil refinery would affect their air and water. The son of the project manager said his family would live near it.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently held public hearings across the reservation in early August on the refinery, which would be built near Makoti, on the north side of Lake Sakakawea.

The Three Affiliated Tribes would spend an estimated $250 million to build the refinery, which would process Canadian oil that would be piped in after it has been stripped of heavy pollutants.

Tribal Chairman Tex Hall, in a statement, said time and technology is in the tribes’ favor to build a refinery that would have minimal environmental impact and major economic impact. It is expected to bring 65 full-time jobs and $100 million in annual revenue.

Tribal member Kathy Samuels said people should look past the money and the jobs and think about the tribes’ roles as caretakers of the Earth.

“We need jobs, but we should think of other things that are good for the environment,” Samuels said at a hearing on the project recently.

Horace Pipe Jr., the son of the project manager, said his family would live near the refinery.

“If [my dad] doesn’t have a problem living next to it, I don’t know why anyone else should,” he said.

Tribal officials are asking the BIA to put the refinery land into trust so it will not be subject to state and local taxes and regulations.

In its environmental draft, the EPA said the 15,000 barrel-per-day refinery would not significantly hurt air quality due to the stripped-down nature of the Canadian oil product. But the EPA said the refinery’s wastewater would carry almost two dozen toxins and chemicals, including benzene.

Bruce Kent, who wrote the draft wastewater permit, said the tribes would be required to treat the wastewater before it could be discharged.

The water would have to be treated to the standard of drinking water before it could be released through a small wetlands area, into a tributary, then into the east fork of Shell Creek and 15 miles downstream into Lake Sakakawea, Kent said.

Tribal member Todd Hall said the project exceeds environmental standards, and he urged the EPA and the BIA to expedite the permit process.

Elise Packineau said she wanted to see proof that air pollution from the refinery would be minor.

Travis Hallam asked whether the refinery would help reduce the county’s dependence on foreign oil when it would use Canadian oil. Hallam said the reservation needs jobs, but it also needs to protect the environment.

Dennis Huber said the tribes should go slowly, do the project right and protect the reservation’s air and water.

Kent said it has been years since a refinery was built in the United States. He said the EPA is only considering one other, a project in Arizona that would be 10 times larger than the one near Makoti and still needs investors.

Comments from the reservation will be folded into a final environmental impact statement, which could lead to a formal decision by next spring.