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Delvin Cree: North Dakota tribe breaks ground on oil refinery

The following story was written and reported by Delvin Cree. All content © Delvin Cree.

MAKOTI, NORTH DAKOTA -- A tribally owned refinery project costing $450 million is getting closer to development stages.

A "historical" ground breaking took place on the Fort Berthold Reservation on Wednesday. The event came at the conclusion of the Three Affiliated Tribes annual oil and gas expo in New Town.

Thunder Butte Petroleum Inc., the name of the new refinery, was originally estimated to cost $350 million. The cost went up as the project moved forward and overcame many obstacles.

Tex Hall, the chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, said planning for the project began in 2001. "The idea back then was to refine Canadian Tar Sands but that has been changed to Bakken oil." he said.

Hall explained "Thunder Butte" was named for one of the most sacred sites on the reservation. He said the site was chosen because of its size and proximity to a highway.

The project is being broken into four phases of construction, according to Richard Mayer, the chief executive officer of Thunder Butte Petroleum Services. He stated the refinery will provide cost savings to tribal members through fuel, propane and other fuels that will be processed at the facility.

Chairman Hall later said $40 million has been set aside for the development of the first stage of the project. The refinery could process up to 20,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day.

Fred Fox, the vice chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, said North Dakota produces 80,000 barrels of oil, with 20 percent coming from the reservation.

"It makes sense to have a refinery," Fox said at the ground breaking.

Rudy Peone, the chairman of the Spokane Tribe of Washington, also spoke at the event. Peone said his tribe is developing a "nation to nation" trade relationship with the Three Affiliated Tribes.

The Spokane Tribe owns four convenient stores and wants to purchase gas from the new refinery. "It is why I'm here today," Peone said.

The refinery, located 25 miles west of New Town, will be the first new refinery to be built in the U.S. in 30 years. Construction is expected to generate 1,000 jobs, many of them from different trades.

About 200 people attended the 1-1/2 hour ground breaking and were served a meal afterwards.

A local group of peaceful protesters SOAR (Save our Aboriginal Rights) who are in opposition to the refinery project located themselves near the entrance of the refinery site.

Delvin Cree is a frequent contributor to and Indian Country Today Media Network.

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