Oil refinery gets referendum passage

South Dakota State Roundup

Published September 1, 2008  | September 2008 issue

It's still a long way from operational, but a proposed $10 billion oil refinery in the rural fields of Union County is baby-stepping its way.

In March, a five-member board had already approved the necessary zoning changes to several thousand acres of farmland targeted for the project. Then another big hurdle was cleared when Union County voters passed a referendum on the proposal by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent.

The company is hoping to begin construction in 2010, with the refinery being operational by 2014 and processing 400,000 barrels of thick Canadian oil per day. The construction phase is expected to bring 4,500 jobs over the four-year period, and the completed refinery will have an estimated 1,800 permanent jobs.

The company is not home yet; it still has to obtain air-quality permits from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and there remains a vocal opposition. In the referendum, a majority of rural county voters opposed the measure, but the proposal received overwhelming support—almost 80 percent—from voters in Dakota Dunes and North Sioux City, according to news reports.

Though the Union County proposal and a few others exist around the country, no new refinery has been built in the United States in the past three decades.

Ronald A. Wirtz