Hall: Refinery would bring change

Hall: Refinery would bring change
Should Hyperion Resources, Inc. choose Union County as the site of an oil refinery, expect a significant change in the character of Vermillion.

That's the assessment of Karen Hall, a chemical engineer who has a background of working as an environmental project manager at an oil refining company in Rosemount, MN.

"It's hard to predict. It depends on where people go to live; it depends on who comes to live here," she said. "And I'm sure that some people who don't like the influx of people and prefer a small-town atmosphere, will move away."

Hall, who now lives in Rapid City, was in Vermillion Tuesday to speak with citizens who have concerns about the dramatic, and quite possibly negative, changes that may accompany the refinery.

Last summer, Hyperion Resources announced its energy center may be built on 2,000 acres of land near Spink and Brule townships in rural Union County.

The construction phase of the refinery would create an estimated 4,500 jobs a year over four years, with a peak of up to 10,000 jobs.

Once the plant is operational, it could employ 1,800 full-time jobs, paying between $20 and $30 an hour.

Constructing a facility that can process 400,000 barrels of heavy crude oil from Canada every day, she said, "is an enormous undertaking.

"When you look at the number of construction people, where are you going to put them? And many of these workers will have families, and that's going to tax your schools."

In fact, Hall said, nearly every resource supported by the community, from education to housing and law enforcement and health care, will feel the impact.

"Those jobs at Hyperion are going to be good jobs," she said. "The employees will make a lot of money. The people I worked with in Minnesota made $60,000 to $70,000 annually with a high school education."

The Vermillion area likely will be filled with empty housing once many of the 10,000 people needed at the height of the construction phase are no longer needed, Hall said.

"And you're going to have an increase in crime," she said, "just because there are going to be a lot more people here. People look at the good jobs and they don't really understand what else they are going to have to pay for … the patient load at the hospital is going to go up."

The area's highways also will be impacted by trucks hauling away products that won't be sent by pipeline.

"The refinery that I worked at had seven loading bays that were open 24 hours a day," Hall said. "A 400,000 barrel-a-day refinery is probably going to have at least a

dozen loading bays open 24 hours a day, so that is going to be a tremendous increase in truck traffic."

Hyperion has stated that it would use the "best available environmental technologies" to produce ultra low sulfur gasoline and diesel.

Hall said the refinery, however, "will be making a whole slate of products. Because of the constraints in the technology, you can't make everything into gasoline."

Other products likely will be petroleum coke, asphalt, heating oil and butane, she said.

When announcing that Union County was a finalist for its energy center, Hyperion personnel stated they intended to build "a green refinery," in other words, a facility with modern technology that would have a minimum impact on the environment.

"There's no such thing as a green refinery," Hall said. "It can be greener than other refineries but refineries are inherently not green because they produce a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide, which is the predominant greenhouse gas."

Hall said oil refineries also emit other emissions, including volatile organics and methane.

Hyperion may claim that it will always be watching out for the environment, but Hall said she's learned that this industry responds more directly to the bottom line.

"When I graduated from college, I really thought that if I worked for a refinery, I could help them revise their attitudes about the environment," she said. "But I tell you, people respond to the incentives that are set for them.

"The incentives that were set for the people who ran the refinery were to run as many thousands of barrels of crude oil through their a day as they could," Hall said, "because that was the profit center. Environmental engineering was not looked at as a profit center for them. It was looked at as overhead."

She said Hyperion likely will, as all oil refiners do, take the necessary steps to meet environmental regulations.

"There are no bad people in oil refining. It's made up of people doing the best job they can do," Hall said. "But because people do respond to the incentives that are set for them, if environment is not made a priority every day, it's going to go by the wayside."

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