November 29, 2008
While I was visiting South Dakota last month, I made a point to visit the area of Union County where a petroleum refinery may be built in the next few years. It would process crude oil derived from tar sands in Canada into gasoline and diesel fuel, and they say it will be one of the "greenest" refineries ever, with various pollution-abatement technologies. One thing I learned, however, is that the refinery needs an enormous quantity of water to operate. The Hyperion Resources Company (headquartered in Dallas) has already submitted a request to the Clay Rural Water System to get a supply of water equal to ten times what the entire system currently delivers to its customers! Such a huge drain on the local water supply could cause a sharp drop in crop production in drought years.
Since I was in South Dakota, there have been further developments. The Yankton Press and Dakotan reported that that the National Park Service have raised questions about the effect the refinery would have on the Missouri National Recreational River and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. (The nearest National Park, the Badlands, is about 200 miles away.) In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency has questioned whether the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources has made the approval process sufficiently clear. The Sierra Club is getting involved, and with a Democratic administration in Washington next year, it will be interesting to see whether the project is subjected to further scrutiny and/or delays.
As I wrote on January 15, this refinery project would consume about six square miles of prime farm land and would disrupt the social fabric, aside from the inevitable pollution of the skies. (It's a question of how much pollution, not whether there would be any.) The opposition groups are not giving up, but the political leaders in the state seem more interested in the economic benefits and tax revenues, so it appears almost assured of approval, eventually. I think it's a shame they have to spoil the landscape in that pristine prairie region, but with demand for energy being what it is, I don't see much alternative.
In the waning days of the Bush administration, everyone is expecting a series of presidential pardons to government officials who were involved in tough national security decisions. It appears that there will also be more fallout from the Duke Cunningham corruption case, as reported in the Washington Post; hat tip to Waldo Jaquith. Some will recall that it was the investigation of such cases that prompted the Bush administration to abruptly fire eight Federal attorneys in December 2006, sparking an uproar that eventually led Alberto Gonzalez to resign as Attorney General; see March 2007.