MAKOTI The ceremony on Wednesday was called historic by many gathered at the site where The Three Affiliated Tribes broke ground for a refinery.
The groundbreaking marked more than 10 years of work since the tribes first started making plans for a refinery for the Fort Berthold Reservation. It was delayed at times because of the various federal permits and other approvals the tribes are required to obtain for such a project.
"We're on a mission to get this online," Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, told a large crowd gathered in a tent at the refinery site about 2 1/2 miles west of Makoti, where the first phase of the construction of the refinery will begin this summer.
Members of the Three Affiliated Tribes’ business council along with various dignitaries turn the first shovels of dirt at the groundbreaking on Wednesday for Thunder Butte Petroleum, the Three Affiliated Tribes’ refinery, at the site west of Makoti.
The tribal business council has $40 million set aside for the first phase of the project. Hall said the money is in the bank and construction will start this summer.
"Business starts today," he said.
Construction of a transload facility is the first part of the project, said Rich Mayer, chief executive officer for the refinery project.
Hall said Thunder Butte Petroleum, the name of the clean fuels refinery, is named for one of the most sacred buttes on the reservation. "It will be successful because of this name," he said.
The refinery is conservatively estimated and projected to cost $450 million. Hall said when they started on the project it was projected to cost $350 million but that price has gone up considerably.
The refinery will refine Bakken Formation crude oil at the site in southwest Ward County, where the tribes own 469 acres of land, with a portion of that land specifically for the refinery. Some of the land will be used for feed for the tribes' bison.
Bernice Larson, who previously owned the majority of the land, was at the ceremony with her daughter, Elaine, was recognized for what she has done for the tribe and its new project.
Prior to about 20 people, including tribal council members, each with gold shovels turning over the first shovels full of dirt, Tony Mandan, a tribal elder, blessed the ground.
James Johnson, who gave the opening prayer, said the refinery project is not just for Native people but for all people. He noted appreciation to all who kept the project going over the years and that tribal elders and others will see it develop.
Before the ceremony began, Mandan said, "Hopefully it will make money for the tribe."
Throughout the ceremony numerous accolades were made to Hall, the tribal business council and the Three Affiliated Tribes for its persistence in following through on the project. Many said the refinery not only will benefit the tribes, the local area and the state but also throughout the U.S.
Speakers from out of state also priased the refinery project. "This is big news and everybody is talking about it," said Rudy Peone, chairman of the Spokane Tribe of Indians from Washington state.
"This is a huge, historic moment for the tribe," Mayer said.
A group of local protesters with signs and representing SOAR Save Our Aboriginal Rights were gathered at the turnoff along N.D. Highway 23 near the refinery site.
The refinery is being planned as a facility that would be capable of refining 20,000 barrels per day of Bakken Formation crude oil into diesel fuel, propane and naphtha products.
The Three Affiliated Tribes' refinery will be one of the first refineries built in the United States in many years. The last refinery built in the U.S. was built in Garyville, La., and began operating in 1976.
Currently, North Dakota has one oil refinery, the Tesoro Corp. in Mandan, but other projects have been proposed in North Dakota, including the Dakota Prairie Refinery near Dickinson where ground was broken for that facility in March, and the Dakota Oil Processing facility near Trenton.