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MHA refinery

First phase of Thunder Butte refinery project could be operational this year

If the current plans of the MHA Nation Tribal Business council continue on track, the first phase of the Thunder Butte refinery could be operational November 1. The first phase is a transload facility at the refinery site near Makoti, North Dakota.  It’s engineered to accept truckloads of crude, store the crude, then fill as many as three 120-unit tanker trains and send them to refineries.  “It could go to refineries along the Gulf coast, the east, or even the west coast,” said MHA Nation Business Council Chairman Tex Hall.

About a third of the Bakken extraction of crude comes off the MHA Nation land, and Chairman Hall said, “Tribal oil is being sold right now.  We want to sell the oil ourselves and we will as of November 1.  We will make more money for our people.”

After the transload facility is operational, the next phase of the Thunder Butte refinery is to assemble the refinery itself.  It will use the storage tanks of the transload facility and the rail yard.  The refinery is “a modular project,” Hall said.  “It’s being designed and built in Houston, Texas and will be shipped and assembled here.  It’s a two-year project and costs $400 million.”

Related: Billings area may see a new refinery  

Hall said the project began early in his first term as tribal chairman when he was first elected in 1998.  The Business Council applied and was approved for an Economic Development grant to study the feasibility of turning crude from Canadian tar sands into refined fuel.  Then, the Bakken boom hit and plans for turning local crude in to refined fuel added energy to the project.  Hall said once it’s operational it will have the capability of refining Bakken crude in to gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel, propane and naphtha.  After that, Hall said he envisions a chain of Thunder Butte retail fuel outlets first on the MHA Nation land, and then spreading across the upper Midwest.

The tribal election, this fall could change the long range plans for Thunder Butte.  The same week as the transload facility is to be operational, November 4th, is the general election for three of the business council representatives and for the chairman.  Hall is making the Thunder Butte project a key part of his record and his campaign for reelection. “Past history will tell you that when I got in, all this happened,” he said. “Six months after I became chairman we got the permits to get started on Thunder Butte.”

The business council primary election is Tuesday, September 16th.  Once the slate of potential candidates is narrowed down in the primary, the future of the Thunder Butte refinery project will become a part of the many issues the candidates will debate as they head in to the general election in November.


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