When officials of Dallas-based Hyperion Resources traveled to Elk Point Tuesday to meet with the Union County Commission, a standing-room only crowd of more than 200 people greeted them.
Many of them, wearing buttons that read Save Union County, made it clear to the commission that they don't want Hyperion to follow through with its plans to construct a 400,000 barrel-per-day oil refinery north of Elk Point.
"We asked to be on the agenda today just to make a social call, if you will," said Bob Frieberg, a Beresford attorney associated with Hyperion told the crowd, "to let you know what the next steps in this process involving Hyperion are going to be, because you're going to be involved in them."
Frieberg told the crowd that in the next day or two, Hyperion will file a formal application with Union County to ask for the area designated in the application to be rezoned as a planned-developed district for heavy industrial use for the proposed Hyperion refinery.
"This is a new venture certainly for South Dakota, it's a huge project and for me, personally, it's amazing that it is in Union County," Frieberg said. "These folks that have put this together have told me that they worked for more than two years in just trying to find somewhere where they thought they might want to put this project together.
"Their motivation, as you might guess, is multi-purpose," he said. "They think that it is important for America to have a good source of gasoline and diesel fuel. They think it is important to keep these natural resources, as much as we can, in North America. And they are convinced that a facility of this kind can be constructed in our day in a careful, safe and responsible manner."
Frieberg told the commission that the Hyperion officials are committed to transparency.
Many members of the audience responded with loud laughter.
"When the application is filed, it will be a public document and the information that's contained in that will tell us what this facility will be," Frieberg said. "Secondly, they have told us they are committed to answering questions from anyone."
Frieberg was interrupted with more laughter.
"If I hear that again, I'm going to have to ask people to leave," County Commission Chairman Doyle Karpen said. "Show a little respect."
"If folks have questions, there will be channels for those questions to be answered," Frieberg said.
He added that Hyperion CEO Albert Huddleston is committed to having a county-wide election.
"He doesn't want to come to a place where he would not be welcome," Frieberg said.
Preston Phillips, vice president of Hyperion Refining of Dallas, said the rezoning being sought by the company is to allow the construction of a refinery and an associated utility plant.
"We're excited to be here; we think Union County is a great place to be," he said. "We've been well-received and we think Union County would be a great place for this type of project."
After hearing from Hyperion officials, the County Commission listened to testimony from local citizens opposed to the project.
"We believe South Dakota can and should be pursuing the development of renewal energy, including ethanol, biodiesel, wind and solar energy," said Burdette Hanson, an Elk Point area landowner.
He suggested that a better place for refining tar sand would be at the Canadian border, with the crude oil piped to the United States.
Neil Harkness warned local citizens of the myriad of problems a refinery would cause in Union County. Roads would be closed and cause a hardship to the area. A pipeline would have to be built.
He also estimates that Union County taxpayers would have to pay $115 million during the refinery construction period, and $15 million annually after the plant was built and operating.
"I was born in this county, and the people that were running it did an excellent job of providing safety and a quality way of life," Harkness said. "Are we the group that would ruin that and change it? I don't want to be part of that group, and I'm sure a lot of you don't want to be, either."
In a Nov. 30 press release, Phillips stated that Hyperion has options on over 10,000 acres of land in Union County.
"One of our goals from the beginning for each of the sites we're considering is to secure not only enough land to build the energy center, but also enough ground to have a substantial buffer zone around the facilities," he said. "Our land acquisition team, and especially our local representatives, has done an excellent job."
He also said that Hyperion has decided to seek a referendum if granted its request for a planned development by the county commissioners.
"We are committed to being the strong corporate citizens the residents of Union County can be proud to call their neighbors," Phillips said. "In the spirit of our corporate dedication to transparency, we think it is only responsible for us to encourage the residents of the county to make this decision."
Phillips said he believes the energy center will fare well in a referendum.
"However, if the majority of voters in Union County do not want us here then we will surely find a home where we are welcome," he said.
Phillips noted there is strong support for the Hyperion Energy Center at both local and regional levels.
"Just recently, the Elk Point City Council, Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and the North Sioux City Economic Development Corporation have all endorsed the project, and there's real momentum building," he said. "This project is an economic engine for jobs, taxes and opportunity." he said. Hyperion announced last July that Union County was a finalist for its $8 billion refinery that would produce ultra-low sulfur gasoline and diesel fuel. Hyperion's plans also include a IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) utility plant.
Hyperion has repeatedly said its facilities will incorporate the most advanced commercially feasible emission control technologies and
adhere to green principles.
Critics has consistently stated that a "green" oil refinery is impossible to construct.