IEF Exclusive: Despite high emotions, tar sands refinery near Iowa border far from realized

Pristine Elk Point, SD is the site of a cross-state dispute over an oil refinery that may not be built for years, if at all. (Photo: The City of Elk Point, SD.)

By Jim Malewitz

Elk Point was never in the spotlight before. But for three years, this quiet South Dakota town of just 750 families and a handful of restaurants has become the focal point in a dispute over a proposed 400,000 barrel-a-day tar sands oil refinery.

It would be the first tar sands plant built the United States since 1976.

Proposed by Dallas-based Hyperion LLC, the refinery has spurred an ideological clash between those hoping to add jobs to a still stagnant economy and those concerned about the health of the near pristine environment of this town, just 15 miles Southwest of Sioux City, and its nearby national parks and recreation areas.

Tar sands is an extra dark, heavy oil that researchers like Scott Spak, at the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, call “absolutely filthy.” Hyperion has said the refinery will use new technology that will limit emissions.

Disagreements over the proposal haven’t been confined to Elk Point or surrounding Union County, where 58 percent of voters approved a zoning ordinance that set aside 3,292 acres of land for the Hyperion refinery. Bickering over the refinery has crept across the border into Iowa and into the rhetoric of lawmakers, and was heightened by the recent midterm elections.

But a review of documents on Hyperion’s permitting process show that the refinery likely won’t be built for years, if at all. Since announcing Elk Point as a finalist for the refinery in June 2007, Hyperion has received just one of seven major permits required for its operation, and even that permit is tenuous. Continue reading

Advisory Council: Climate change has far-reaching impacts

Take a look at this piece in yesterday’s Mason City Globe-Gazette about the fascinating, and perhaps startling, discussion at a key meeting of Iowa’s Climate Change Advisory Council.

We’ll have much more on these topics once the council releases its report to the governor.

Here’s a snippet from the article:

WINDSOR HEIGHTS – It’s not the averages, but the extremes that should motivate Iowans, especially elected leaders, to factor climate change into their decision-making, according to a panel that has been studying its impact on Iowa for nearly two years.

In biological systems, such as agriculture, “outcomes are defined by the extremes, not the averages,” Iowa State University Professor Richard Cruse told the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council (ICCAC) on Monday.

And the number of extreme weather events – five-inch rainfalls, for example, is growing faster than the increase in average precipitation, fellow ISU Professor Gene Takle added.

Those conditions may produce some short-term yield gains for corn and soybean producers. However, the effect of cooler daytime temperatures, higher nighttime temperature and higher dew points – all of which Takle said are amply documented – are likely to affect all aspects of crop production from tillage and planting to crop choices as well as construction standards for farm-to-market roads, Cruse and Takle told their fellow panel members….

Proposed Hyperion tar sands oil refinery sparks cross-border controversy


An oil refinery, Shell at Martinez, California. (photo: Wikipedia commons)


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.

From the Iowa Independent:

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.

Continue reading