A proposed $10 billion tar sands oil refinery near the South Dakota-Iowa border is causing a stir among political and environmental groups in both states. If all goes as Hyperion plans, it will be the first tar sands refinery built in the U.S. since the 1970s.
Environmental groups argue that the crude tar sands oil is the dirtiest around, and the refinery would pose a huge threat to the land, air, and water supply in both states. Hyperion says it will use the greenest of technology – a notion loudly disputed by those who have critically examined the proposal
And politicians in both states in support of the plant argue that it will bring much-need jobs into the area.
The $10 billion refinery will be built in Elk Point, S.D., just 30 miles north of Sioux City. With the area’s wind patterns and flow of the nearby Missouri River, environmental activists are calling the proposed refinery potentially “devastating” to Iowans’ safety. Although the Texas-based Hyperion Refining LLC says the facility will create 10,000 jobs — many of which will go to Iowans, the company assures — the negative environmental impacts of the oil extraction from the tar sands is well-document, critics say.
Last August, after months of hearings, the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment unanimously granted an air quality permit to Hyperion. The permit is required before construction could begin.
Hyperion executive Preston Phillips said the Dallas, Texas-based company has demonstrated its state-of-the-art refinery would be the cleanest in the world.
“The state wouldn’t have issued us a permit if there were health concerns,” Phillips said. “If you look at the application, and proceedings and the testimony, I think it’s clear to everyone, that the permit obviously protects citizens of South Dakota, but in doing that also protects people living in Iowa.”
But Leopold said the scope of that permit is “very narrow.”
“The questions I’m asking are over and above that,” he said. “I don’t disagree with their findings. I would just like to see a more comprehensive review and one that includes Iowa.”
Among other things, the Iowa DNR points out the modeling did not specifically look at the impacts to western Iowa’s Loess Hills, a rare formation of glacial till, which has become a popular tourist destination.
The Loess Hills runs through parts of Plymouth County, which borders the refinery site in rural Union County, S.D. Leopold noted Plymouth County is home to 17 parks and the Broken Kettle Nature Conservancy. The latter, an 800-acre preserve, is home to Iowa’s largest remaining prairie grasses, and rare plants and animals like the silver buffalo berry and the prairie rattlesnake, Leopold said.
Potential environmental damage to the Missouri River, home to two endangered species, also is an issue, he said. Hyperion plans to use water from the aquifer to cool its plant and then discharge the treated water back into the river.
Also check out the letter from Richard Leopold, former Iowa DNR Director, to the South Dakota DENR.
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