Environmental Doom in South Dakota

Even before a final decision is made to build a refinery at Elk Point, the war against any such refinery is ratcheting up.

I examined this a few weeks ago in my column at the Rapid City Journal:

The last refinery built in the United States was in Garyville, La., in 1976. Since then, the oil industry has tried a few times to build more, but regulatory hurdles usually make it more trouble than it’s worth . One company, Hampton Roads Energy Corp., tried for nine years before giving up in 1984.

There were about 300 refineries at the peak of the industry in the early 1980s, but about 170 have closed in the meantime. Since then, increased efficiencies have raised production from 6.4 million barrels a day to 8.2 million.

Meanwhile, demand is about 9 million and refineries are near 100 percent capacity already.

Today, the Argus Leader has two articles already poisoning people’s minds against the Hyperion refinery.

One article entitled “Is this Elk Point’s future?” ostensibly points to a “clean” refinery in Minnesota while it tells us all the bad things that can come with a refinery. It even admits the effect of all these radical environmental regulations:

Those rules have helped force half of all U.S. refineries to close in the past 25 years. The remaining 149 refineries have expanded to offset the vast majority of the lost refining capacity, but tight capacity remains a major driver of today’s high gas prices.

That sets up a national dilemma, now playing out in South Dakota: A new refinery could pay off for consumers in the form of lower gas prices, but local residents face most of the environmental costs.

Then there’s the shorter “Hyperion’s potential use of heavy crude a pollution concern” article that adds to the fear.

Obviously we need to be as clean and as careful as possible, especially for those who live near refineries.

But on the other hand, solar and wind power aren’t going to meet our energy needs. And Jimmy Carter-esq ideas like putting on a sweater aren’t going to cut it with Americans.

So why can’t we work for reasonably clean refineries without painting them as harbingers of doom…and shooting ourselves in the foot while doing so?

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