Protestors picket Hyperion on Earth Day

Protestors picket Hyperion on Earth Day
Chanting "We've got sun, we've got wind, we don't need Hyperion," and "Hey, hey, what do you say, Hyperion, go away," approximately 50 people celebrated Earth Day in Elk Point Tuesday by publicly expressing themselves in front of the company's Main Street office.

The hour-long event began at 3 p.m. The demonstrators gathered outside of the front door of the Hyperion building, holding signs that read "Oil is the past," "Wind yes," "Save Union County," "Keep It Green," and "Save the Children, Say No to Tar Sand."

The group marched approximately two blocks down the street, waving their signs and chanting before returning to the Hyperion building, regrouping and repeating their march.


Women, men and children of all ages participated. Not all were from Elk Point; some lived in rural Union County, near the site of the proposed Hyperion refinery.

A few Clay County residents participated in the Earth Day demonstration, even though only Union County residents will have a say in June on the refinery's future.

The Union County Commission voted 4-1 in late March to hold a referendum on the controversial oil refinery in conjunction with the South Dakota primary election already scheduled on that date.

Before the commission made its decision on the referendum, a pro-refinery group had already turned in petitions calling for a vote on a proposed zoning change that would allow Hyperion to build the $10 billion project just northeast of Elk Point.

Under state law, the commission had the option of attaching the question to the primary ballot or holding a special election in mid-April.

By piggybacking the referendum on the primary, supporters said the county saves the estimated $7,000 to $8,000 it would have cost to have a special vote.

By a 5-0 vote the commission voted March 11 to grant Hyperion's application to rezone 3,292 acres of farmland to allow construction of the 400,000-barrel-per-day refinery. Shortly afterwards, Citizens for Hyperion began gathering petitions to force the referendum, which the company encouraged.

Citizens for Hyperion president J.B. Mercer said his group collected more than 1,000 signatures. Mercer noted back in March that Save Union County also was circulating petitions, but never delivered any signatures to election officials.

"The opponents say they want a democratic decision, and here was their chance," Mercer said in a statement. "Instead of helping to send this issue to the people of Union County, they've done everything in their power to keep it off the primary ballot."

In mid-June 2007, Hyperion Resources of Dallas, TX announced its plans to build an energy center in Union County.

Plans call for "the most environmentally sound energy center in the United States," the company said in a statement released to the back then.

Hyperion officials said the central component of the energy center will be an oil refinery, which will refine approximately 400,000 barrels of oil per day into "clean, green transportation fuels, including ultra-low sulfur gasoline and ultra-low sulfur diesel," according to the statement.

"Gas prices are the highest in U.S. history, and the U.S. refining infrastructure hasn't seen a significant change since 1976," Hyperion Project Executive J.L. "Corky" Frank said in the statement.

If the firm succeeds in building a new refinery, it would be the first one built in the United States since 1976, the company said. Over the years, refining capacity in the U.S. "has not kept pace with demand," Frank said.

"We believe there's a growing belief among people in this country that North American oil should stay in North America," he said.

The refinery would process heavy crude oil from Canada and ship it to markets in the U.S., the company said.

Kathy Lessek, who residence lies approximately one-half mile from the proposed site of the refinery, helped organize Tuesday's rally.

"It dawned on me Friday that today is Earth Day," she said, "and it's only fitting that we should show our support for the earth by coming out here. It's not a protest exactly. It's support for the earth."

Lessek said Tuesday's event was designed to show the public that local people are opposed to the Hyperion project.

"We're definitely against the oil refinery, and it's not just our little corner of the world that is being affected by this; the entire planet is being affected by this," she said.

Elk Point was the site of Tuesday's event, she said, because it is the home of Hyperion's office.

The demonstrators plan, in the weeks leading up to the June 3 election, to carry signs and march in Beresford, Jefferson, Dakota Dunes and other Union County communities.

"The other communities are involved with the vote, and we have to get the information out to the northern part of our county – that's probably where they have the least amount of information," Lessek said.

Tuesday's event originally was designed only to coincide with Earth Day, she said. But the demonstration's strong support, she said, makes it clear that it can perhaps help change voters' minds.

"There are enough people that are happy that we are doing this, and that makes us willing to go into the other communities," Lessek said. "We need to influence voters, but we're not an official political organization. We're just a group of citizens expressing ourselves."

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