Flint Hills, environmental groups settle on plans for refinery upgrade

Heat exchanger and fractionation towers
Heat exchanger and fractionation towers fill the skyline at Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend Refinery in Rosemount, Minn. in a file photo. The Pine Bend operation, which was built in the 1950's, will be upgraded as part of a settlement with two environmental groups.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Flint Hills Resources has agreed to incorporate energy efficiency and emissions restrictions into a $400 million plan to upgrade its refinery in Rosemount as part of a settlement with two environmental groups.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) and the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project said they will not challenge Flint Hills' application for an air-quality permit for the upgraded Pine Bend refinery as part of the agreement.

The upgrades to the refinery, announced in November, would increase the facility's capacity and allow it to process about 320,000 barrels of oil per day.

Flint Hills agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions at the refinery by about 52,000 metric tons per year, which is about a fifth of the total expected increase from the project. The company has also agreed to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds and sulfur dioxide, and will ensure that the refinery accurately measures fine particulate emissions.

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The company will also contribute $1 million to Project Green Fleet, a project run by the Environmental Initiative to retrofit diesel engines to reduce fine particulate emissions, which are a public health concern.

MCEA Executive Director Scott Strand said attorneys started working with Flint Hills officials as soon as the company made its plans known.

"Early on in a project there's greater willingness to make changes, sometimes the costs of making changes is lower," Strand said, adding that litigation is also expensive. "Our judgment was by engaging in this process early, we got what we could accomplish through that — and maybe a little more — and certainly at reduced cost."

Some of the energy efficiency requirements in the agreement are expected to save Flint Hills money in operating costs.

"We thought it was important to reach out to environmental leaders and look for ways to work together to improve the projects ahead of the traditional regulatory review process," Scott Lindemann, vice president and manufacturing manager at Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery, said in a news release. "We are very pleased with the result, which is a better overall project."

Construction on the refinery project is expected to begin next year. Flint Hills said the daily average contract work force at Pine Bend will grow from about 500 to 1,000 over the next five years.