At a press conference late Wednesday afternoon in the Union County Courthouse, it was revealed that a Texas energy company is behind "Project Gorilla."
Hyperion Resources, Inc., a privately held, international energy company based in Dallas, announced it plans to build the most environmentally sound energy center in the United States, including the first oil refinery built in the country since 1976.
A potential location for the center is Union County, in the Elk Point area.
"The central component of the energy center will be a 400,000 barrel per day refinery," said Richard Benda, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tourism and State Development, "that will equal the daily fuel use in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota."
Hyperion Project Executive J.L."Corky" Frank confirmed Wednesday that a tract of land in Union County is one of the sites in the Midwest being considered for what is being described as a "green" energy center. Neither Benda or Preston Phillips, a Hyperion executive who also participated in the news conference, would reveal where other potential locations are located. Phillips would only reveal that the company was looking at alternate sites "in a couple of different states."
"The Union County site is sufficiently attractive that we've taken several options on land there, and we may take a few more," Frank stated in a press release distributed to the media Wednesday.
"This is not your grandfather's refinery," Benda said. "It is a much different facility and a much different day."
Benda said the energy center will incorporate the most advanced emissions technologies and adhere to comprehensive environmental principles.
"This is an opportunity for South Dakota to be involved in the largest single forward step in energy production in this country in a long, long time," he said.
The refinery will transform oil from Canada into "ultra-low sulfur gasoline (ULSG) and ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD)," according to a statement from Hyperion, in a manner that will protect the environment, particularly air and water quality.
"There has been a lot of speculation, and we wanted to come forward previously, but due to our land acquisition efforts, we felt it wasn't prudent until this time to actually come public with this project," Phillips said. "We're excited to have a potential site for this facility here in South Dakota, and specifically Union County. It's such a great place to live and work."
He added, however, that much work must be completed before Hyperion ultimately decides where to locate the refinery.
"It includes engineering and scientific studies, rezoning and permitting," he said, "before we select a final site." That decision will likely be made, he said, in the first half of 2008.
Construction of the refinery will employ an average of 4,500 workers over a four-year period, with a peak of approximately 10,000 employees. When operational, the $8 billion energy center will provide approximately 1,800 full-time jobs with benefits.
"We're looking at average wages running from $20 to $30 per hour," Phillips said. "These are skilled jobs; they are good jobs and they will have a positive benefit on the area."
The facility, once completed, will need a host of professional workers.
"We will need welders, electricians, plumbers, accountants, marketing people � a whole host of different types of jobs," he said.
"The beneficial impact to our state, the region and the nation will be tremendous," Benda said. "We believe that Americans would much rather have greater alliances with their Canadian friends to the north, and to not continue to have the Middle East have its stranglehold on us in the energy area."
The refinery will process heavy crude oil from Canada and ship it to markets in the United States.
Benda noted that in addition to the energy center, there will be opportunities both in South Dakota and elsewhere in the nation for the development of associated facilities to provide services to the facility. There is also the potential for the creation of numerous research and development firms, he said, that will want to be near such a state-of-the-art industry.
"Hyperion has had discussions with several pipeline companies, but one of the great positive things about this project, being at 400,000 barrels a day," Phillips said, "is it can have its own dedicated pipeline, and as such is not contingent on any pipeline project out there."
Hyperion likely would have two lines, he said � one to bring in crude oil, and another to ship out the refined products.
The integrated refinery will incorporate a power plant with the latest technology, consuming petroleum coke by-product from the refinery to supply hydrogen, steam and electricity to the refinery itself. According to Hyperion's press release, the energy center will use integrated gasification combined cycle technology (IGCC), which will result in emissions that are substantially lower than conventional power generation plants.
The core facility itself, Phillips, will need approximately 2,000 acres. Hyperion, he added, is aggressively working at not only obtaining property options for the plant site itself, but also for a buffer zone that would surround the energy center.
"Ideally, we would like enough buffer zone to where our neighbors do not feel they are impacted by the project," he said.
It is estimated that the refinery would use approximately 12 million gallons of water daily.
"Hyperion is committed to using aggressive water re-use strategies," Phillips said, "and other recycling strategies, such as reverse osmosis, to make sure we minimize to the greatest degree possible the impacts on the water we use."
Should the plant be located in Union County, it would use water from the Missouri River.
Following the oil refining process, the plant would return water back to the Missouri, "and that water would be cleaner than the water in the river that it is discharged back into," he said.
Frank, a veteran of the energy industry and former president of Marathon Ashland Petroleum, said Wednesday that the time is right for a project of this nature.
"The fact is, refining capacity in this country has not kept pace with demand. We believe there's a growing belief among people in this country that North American oil should stay in North America," he said.
The Hyperion Energy Center, Phillips said, is designed to be a place of excellence, with an infrastructure designed to support the refinery, the power plant, and other complimentary industries and activities.
"I think this refinery will be the most advanced, state-of-the-art facility in the United States and the world," Phillips said.