(AP) – A company facing opposition from environmentalists and landowners as it works to build an $800 million oil refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota has cleared another hurdle by obtaining a state water permit, though the matter could still end up in state court.
State Engineer Garland Erbele on Thursday followed the recent recommendation of an administrative law judge and issued a permit to Meridian Energy Group allowing the company to draw water from an underwater aquifer for the Davis Refinery, State Water Commission spokeswoman Jessie Wald said Monday.
The agency was prepared to issue the permit last summer but three landowners challenged it, citing concerns over how they might be affected and how much of the water would be wasted. Landowner attorney JJ England also argued that Meridian’s plans for treating and using the water were vague and at times conflicting.
Administrative Law Judge Tim Dawson held a hearing in November and issued his recommendation Jan. 8, concluding “there is no realistic harm to the public interest” should the permit be issued.
England did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether his clients will appeal. They have about a month to decide under state law.
A separate challenge in state court by three environmental groups of the refinery’s state air quality permit recently failed. A state judge ruled in late January that the Health Department had effectively supported its position that the refinery will not be a major source of pollution that will negatively impact the park just 3 miles (5 kilometers) away.
Meridian in statements has applauded both of the recent permit decisions. The company, which began doing site work for the refinery last summer , also recently announced that it has raised “a significant portion” of the needed financing and enlisted Morgan Stanley and Co. and CIBC World Markets Corp. to help arrange the rest by later this year. Meridian expects to resume construction in the spring and have the refinery fully operating by mid-2021.
The groups that opposed the air quality permit – the National Parks Conservation Association, the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Dakota Resource Council – have not said if they will appeal, and a spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
The groups worry about pollution in the 30,000-acre (12,000-hectare) park that draws more than 700,000 visitors annually and is North Dakota’s top tourist attraction. Two of the groups also are challenging a separate decision by North Dakota regulators not to review whether the refinery site is appropriate.
Meridian maintains the refinery will have modern technology that will make it “the cleanest refinery on the planet.”