In a historic announcement today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the agency has taken 469 acres of land into trust for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (MHA) Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, to build a tribal-owned and -operated clean fuels refinery—a project the Tribes have pursued for a decade.
Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn signed the application this morning as one of his first acts in office.
“This is a historic day for the U.S. for a lot of reasons,” Salazar said from the Nation’s headquarters on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in New Town, North Dakota. “For one, this is the first oil refinery permitted in the lower 48 states in more than 30 years. We are moving forward with the President’s overall agenda to create jobs in rural America and empower tribal communities across Indian country.”
If all approvals are met, the proposed MHA Nation Clean Fuels Refinery will support tribal economic development and self-determination, while bolstering the local and state economy. Developers estimate the refinery will pump 13,000 barrels per day, turning crude oil from the Bakken Formation into diesel fuel, propane and naptha products for the U.S. market.
The MHA Nation plans to break ground on the refinery in spring 2013, said Tex Hall, tribal chairman. Project developers estimate the refinery will create nearly 1,000 jobs during construction and 140 permanent jobs, in addition to generating millions in annual revenue streams to benefit the Nation and surrounding rural communities.
Proceeds will “fix infrastructure, roads and our housing shortfall” on the Fort Berthold reservation, Hall said.
Hall said the project will largely be financed by the MHA Nation’s $360 million Tribal Economic Development (TED) Bond, authorized as part of the Treasury’s two-year $2 billion Indian tax-exempt pilot established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. “We have a law firm in D.C. [Fredericks, Peebles and Morgan LLP] that will now sell the bonds to investors,” Hall said.
Of the 469-acre trust property, the proposed refinery would cover about 190 acres and the remaining acreage would be used for the production of feed for the Tribes’ buffalo herd.
During today’s press announcement, Interior representatives emphasized the strides made by the Obama Administration to repair its relationship with Indian country. “We have reestablished a trust relationship; it is nation-to-naton,” said Del Laverdure, principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs. “So many wrongs cannot be righted overnight.” But the approval of the Tribes’ land-into-trust application for the purposes of a clean fuels refinery is representative of the federal government’s efforts to help put “these Tribes in charge of their own energy and their own resources,” Laverdure said.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a key permit August 1, 2011, allowing for the discharging of treated wastewater from the refining process. Future federal permitting and oversight will be handled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, states an Interior press release.