Hyperion in the balance
By Dave Dreeszen | Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2009
PIERRE, S.D. -- Over the past three months, Liz Merrigan sat through
more than 50 hours of testimony related to Hyperion Refining's
application for a state air quality permit.
nearly 1,800 miles, she traveled between her southeast South Dakota
home and the state capital in Pierre three different times to attend
all eight days of public hearings.
"I did question my sanity on one or two occasions,'' she said with a laugh last week.
retired teacher, who lives just five miles from the rural Union County
site where Hyperion hopes to build a $10 billion oil refinery and power
plant, returns to Pierre this week to find out whether project
opponents convinced the state Board of Minerals and Environment to deny
the air permit.
After hearing closing arguments from both sides
Thursday, the nine-member board is expected to decide whether to issue
what's formally known as the Prevention of Significant Deterioration
Air Quality Permit.
An affirmative vote would represent a major
victory for backers of the $10 billion project, which they say would
create thousands of high-paying jobs and tens of millions of dollars in
economic activity for the tri-state region.
Eric Williams said securing the permit would be an ''important step''
in solidifying commitments from investors. He again declined to comment
on specific financing for the project, which would be the first all-new
U.S. refinery since 1976.
Other aspects of the project also are
contingent on obtaining the air permit, including securing contracts
for the crude oil and for construction of the facility, he said.
said all along that the two foundational permits are the zoning change
and the air permit,'' Williams said. "We hope the board will agree with
us and issue the air permit. At that point, it is our intention to
focus on the other permits and consents, as well as other tasks such as
more detailed design and planning.''
In June 2008, Union County voters approved the rezoning of 3,292 acres the company optioned just north of Elk Point.
months later, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources
recommended approval of the company's air quality permit. Williams
noted DENR experts went through the 613-page application with a
Hyperion then requested a contested case
hearing, which he said produced an additional level of scrutiny. During
the hearings, attorneys for the DENR and opponents, which included the
Sierra Club and two local groups, Save Union County and Citizens
Against Oil Pollution, presented testimony and cross-examined expert
witnesses on a bevy of environmental issues.
its 21st century refinery, which would process 400,000 barrels of
Canadian tar sands crude per day into low-sulfur gas, diesel and jet
fuel, would be 90 percent cleaner than the average U.S. refinery.
project includes a power plant that would turn petroleum coke, a
refinery by-product, into electricity and hydrogen to run the refinery.
The gasification process would allow the removal of more pollutants,
according to the company.
Opponents argue Hyperion failed to
prove the refinery meets federal air quality standards or uses the best
technology available. They noted the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, in a November 2008 letter, criticized some of the selected
The opposition also presented
evidence that the energy center would emit thousands of tons of carbon
monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, fine particles and other
pollutants into the air each year. In addition, they point out that by
Hyperion's own admission, the energy center would annually produce 19
million tons of carbon dioxide, the most of any U.S. refinery.
think the concept of 'green and clean' is exceptionally misleading,''
said Merrigan, one of the few area residents in attendance at all the
hearings. "I was struck by the fact if thousands of citizens in Union
County had heard these eight days of testimony before the vote was
taken last year, I can't help but think attitude toward the refinery
and the myth of economic development would have been different.''
the board approves the permit, opponents most likely would challenge it
in court. As of last week, the opposition groups were mum on their
potential legal strategies.
Jim Heisinger, chairman of the South
Dakota chapter of the Sierra Club, noted opponents raised several key
points during the hearings. For instance, they questioned why the South
Dakota DENR relied on particulate matter emission data from an air
monitoring station in Sioux Falls rather than a station in Sioux City
that is half the distance from the refinery site. In addition Sioux
City's wind patterns are more representative of the area along the
Missouri River, he said.
Heisinger said the DENR used just one
year's data, from 2006, from the Sioux Falls monitoring site. He said
more typically the most recent five years of data are used.