Let’s not allow a refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

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I grew up in Medora, N.D. It was the 1970s, about the time a previous oil boom was running full-tilt in the western part of the state.

The air was still fresh and clean, whitetails walked down an empty Main Street in the early evenings this time of year, and the 100 or so souls who called the place home year-round enjoyed the post-tourist peace and quiet.

My folks often took visiting relatives into Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park to hopefully glimpse wild horses, maybe come upon a buffalo and definitely to check out the view, which on clear days could stretch all the way to Dickinson and beyond.

Out that way is Fryburg, where I went to school in the 5th grade because otherwise I would have been the only boy in grades 5-8 in Medora’s two-room schoolhouse. A few miles farther east is Belfield, where Medora’s older kids attended high school. It also had the nearest movie theater, where I saw “The Apple Dumpling Gang” for the first time.

Fresh and clean.

Not much is the same today. Medora is almost completely commercialized, the two-room school house is long gone, and so is the pristine view of the Badlands from North Dakota’s only national park. One can stand on the highest buttes and see… oil rigs.

Now comes Meridian Energy Group. To add insult to injury, this bunch of out-of-staters wants to build an oil refinery just three miles from the southeast corner of the park’s South Unit near Fryburg. Plans are for a huge industrial complex between there and Belfield, in full view of I-94.

The Davis refinery would have a 55,000-barrel (2.3-million-gallon) per-day capacity. The facility and its plume would be painfully visible from the park, where thousands of visitors would otherwise enjoy a clear view of the surrounding Badlands.

In 2016, 750,000 people visited the park and spent nearly $50 million. But it isn’t a state gem just because of the economic boon; it’s also because of the park’s rich history, rugged terrain and breathtaking vistas.

Fresh and clean.

The N.D. Dept. of Health and the National Park Service are currently reviewing an air permit application from Meridian, and the N.D. Water Commission is reviewing a water use permit. Meridian is disputing the need for a site compatibility permit from the Public Service Commission even though it’s required by state law given the proposed facility’s capacity.

The National Parks Conservation Association recently commissioned an independent analysis that found the proposed refinery would be “…a major source of pollution that would release substantial amounts of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants – all harmful to human and ecological health.”

Sound good to you? Not to me, either. I’m guessing the whitetail, wild horses and buffalo would object, too.

Fresh and clean.

To the extent we still can, let’s keep the air and views of Theodore Roosevelt National Park that way.

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