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Extreme makeover

"Extreme makeover" Continued...

After a short-lived oil boom in Williston a few decades ago, Olinger said, “there was an underlying assumption that [this one] was going to be another flash in the pan.” Now people speculate the current boom will last 20 years or more. He’s hoping to find the resources to build a second facility that would include more kids’ classrooms and a gym.

During a recent weekday evening sermon, the former logger spoke of the Great Commission and God’s sovereignty: “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills—and the oil that lies a mile beneath the earth.”

Prairie plant

Ken Cedeno/Corbis/AP

One hundred and thirty miles south of Williston, another dusty town called Dickinson is reaping the benefits of the region’s oil drilling. It hosts dozens of businesses, muddy roads that fling dirt beneath pickup trucks, a Ukrainian Cultural Institute, a railroad carrying black tank cars, and an oil pump jack bobbing next to a subdivision full of new homes and duplexes. Dickinson ranked third on the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent list of “Fastest Growing Micro Areas,” and is home to the first new U.S. oil refinery to be built on an undeveloped site in 37 years.

In late October construction of the $300 million refinery, the Dakota Prairie Refinery, proceeded at the end of a mud and gravel driveway with a posted 15 mph speed limit. Brown-and-white cows grazed in adjacent fields while cranes jutted up above cylindrical steel tanks that will hold crude oil, naphtha, diesel, and kerosene. Train tracks ran alongside the site.

Once completed, the refinery will use the region’s crude oil to produce 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel per day, enough to fill 42 tank trucks. Oddly, although North Dakota is pumping over 90,000 barrels of crude oil each day (second only to Texas in production), because much is shipped elsewhere for refining, the state imports much of the diesel needed to run trucks and heavy machinery.

The Dakota Prairie Refinery, built by MDU Resources Group, is scheduled to be finished in late 2014. Plant manager Dave Podratz said the company is in the process of hiring engineers, accountants, and clerks to run the facility. “We’re getting applications from all over the country. ... I’ve seen Montana, I’ve seen Nebraska, I’ve seen Arkansas.” —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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