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MDU eyes Minot area for second diesel refinery

BISMARCK – Developers of a nearly completed diesel refinery near Dickinson are eyeing the Minot area as the potential site for a similar plant.

John Stumpf, senior vice president of business development for WBI Energy Inc., said the second refinery would process about 20,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day, the same capacity as the Dakota Prairie Refining LLC facility near Dickinson.

“Minot’s a little different situation, but the demand for diesel up there is even stronger than it is here,” Stumpf said in an interview at the Dickinson refinery.

WBI Energy, a subsidiary of Bismarck-based MDU Resources Group, developed the Dickinson refinery with Indianapolis-based Calumet Specialty Products Partners LP.

MDU announced in its quarterly report last week that the permitting process for a second refinery had begun and construction could start next year, but it didn’t identify a potential site. Spokesman Tim Rasmussen said a second proposed refinery is under “serious evaluation,” and the proposed location is in the Minot area.

Stumpf said they’ve hired Dallas-based consultant Turner, Mason & Co. to study the project’s feasibility.

“And really that’s our thesis for these kinds of niche plants, is kind of can you get access to good quality crude at an advantageous price. And Minot’s got a few dynamics that we think would work out for us,” he said, calling the area’s rail situation “very advantageous.”

Both the BNSF and Canadian Pacific railroads run past an industrial park being developed between Minot and Surrey, Minot Mayor Chuck Barney said. There’s also an intermodal facility in the same area, “so it’s very appealing,” he said.

Barney said Minot is being considered for a number of refineries, but he wouldn’t divulge details.

“I think everyone is still in the development mode, and we haven’t heard anything definitive from any of them,” he said.

Trucks will begin delivering crude oil to the Dickinson refinery during the first week of December, with substantial startup expected by year’s end, plant Manager Dave Podratz said.

The refinery’s initial cost of $300 million has grown to $360 million, and a second refinery would “average down” the cost of the first refinery and could probably be built cheaper, in part by not having to duplicate engineering costs, Stumpf and Podratz said.

Demand for diesel in North Dakota has soared with the state’s oil and gas boom. Sales and deliveries of No. 2 diesel fuel and No. 2 fuel oil totaled nearly 69,400 barrels per day in September, roughly double the amount in September 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The Dickinson refinery will produce about 7,000 barrels of diesel per day and sell it locally.

Even with regional refineries expanding their diesel capacity and other developers mulling refineries in North Dakota, there’s still a projected need for additional capacity, Stumpf said.

He estimated statewide demand for diesel at about 70,000 barrels per day. Barring a dramatic drop in oil drilling, demand could peak at around 75,000 to 80,000 barrels per day and sustain that level for possibly 20 years, he said.

“So one more plant seems timely and would be supported by the market,” he said.

Plans are moving ahead for a refinery on the Fort Berthold Reservation near Makoti that will process 20,000 barrels of oil daily, said Richard Mayer, CEO of Thunder Butte Petroleum Services, which will operate the MHA Nation Clean Fuels Refinery.

Mayer said construction has been completed on two 140,000-barrel holding tanks, and officials hope to finalize the refinery’s design within the next 30 days. They’re still deciding whether it will be strictly a diesel refinery or produce both diesel and gasoline, he said. Startup is anticipated in fall 2016.

Other developers are considering 20,000 barrel-per-day refineries in Trenton, Devils Lake and East Fairview on the North Dakota-Montana border.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.