Flint Hills is coming out of murky waters

Posted under Dakota Co. Tribune Business Weekly on Wednesday 18 November 2009 at 4:17 pm

Flint Hills Resources works toward new environmental legacy


by Jessica Harper
Dakota County Tribune

Flint Hills Resources’ Pine Bend Refinery in Rosemount has a muddy past
when it comes to environmental issues, but the company is working
toward a brighter future.

“It took a lot of hard work from dedicated individuals and unwavering
commitment from company leaders to transform Pine Bend into one of the
cleanest refineries in the country,” Flint Hills spokesperson Jake
Reint said.

PHOTO: Over the last 10 years, Flint Hills Resources has worked to
improve its environmental practices, reducing air emissions by 50
percent and enacting a water recycling program. Despite these efforts,
the company was listed as a “top polluter” by Environment Minnesota, a
state-wide environmental advocacy organization. Company officials say
the report lacks context. – Photo submitted

The refinery was opened by Great Northern Oil Co. in 1955, which was prior to the National Environmental Protection Act of 1969.

At the time, it refined about 25,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Today, Pine Bend is the 11th largest refinery in the country with a processing capacity of approximately 320,000 barrels per day.

Koch Industries purchased controlling interest in 1969 and renamed the facility Koch Refinery Co.

During the 1980s and 1990s the refinery had issues with crude oil seeping into the ground and air-emission issues.

Years of storage tank leaks caused gas and petroleum to seep into springs and wetlands near the Mississippi River.

In 1997, the company violated the Clean Water Act by improperly using fire hydrant systems to release millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater on refinery grounds, and was fined $6.9 million by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and $8 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The refinery then agreed to clean nearby soil and ground water, prevent future spills and resolve compliance issues.

In 2002, the Rosemount location became part of Flint Hills Resources, an independent refinery and chemical company owned by Koch Industries Inc.

Today, Flint Hills is working toward a new legacy — one that is more environmentally friendly.

Between 1999 and 2004, Flint Hills reduced its air emissions by 50 percent while expanding its operations, an achievement that the company received special recognition for in 2005 by the EPA’s Clean Air Awards program.

Flint Hills was also awarded a Clean Air Award the previous year for reducing flare.

flint-hills-2-c.jpgPHOTO: During the 1980s and 1990s, Flint Hills ran into issues with crude oil seeping into the ground and contaminating local waterways. The company has worked to build a new legacy by treating or recycling all waste water. Above is one of the treatment ponds at its Pine Bend facility in Rosemount. – Photo by Jessica Harper

For the last 10 years, the company has also met state and federal regulations by treating its waste water in a treatment facility located on its campus.

“Our goal is to address every drop of water before it goes into the river,” Reint said.

Approximately 3 million gallons of water are treated and discharged into the Mississippi River each day, he said.

“It’s difficult to arrive at an absolute chemical purity, but we try to treat the best we can,” Reint said.

Flint Hills also implemented a recycling program in 2006 that enables the facility to reuse discharged water.

That same year, Flint Hills earned the Waste Water Operator Award for outstanding practices.

Although, Flint Hills has managed to meet current federal and state standards, it is always looking for ways to improve its practices, said Mike Falk, the compliance systems owner for Flint Hills’ waste and water programs.

“That’s the driver for many of our projects,” Falk said.

Despite Flint Hills’ recent accomplishments, the company was listed as a “top polluter” last month by Environment Minnesota, a state-wide environmental advocacy organization.

The group based its findings on the 2007 EPA Toxic Release Inventory, a national database that shows the quantity of chemicals released into waterways by industries that produce or release certain chemicals.

The 2007 report is the most recent data available.

The TRI reported that Flint Hills released 610,015 pounds of chemicals into local waterways.

Environment Minnesota states that its report “analyzes the dangerous levels of pollutants discharged into America’s waters” by compiling data reported in the TRI.

However, the TRI does not indicate whether these chemicals have reached dangerous levels or whether industries are meeting regulations.

For this reason, Reint said, Environment Minnesota’s report is misleading.

“I think the report lacks context,” Reint said. “Everything we discharged into the river is treated in accordance to the law.”

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which oversees regulatory permitting, Flint Hills has not violated regulations as of 2001 (the MPCA’s online databases do not go farther back than 2001).

Additionally, Flint Hills’ water discharges have declined by 389,382 pounds between 2005 and 2007.

An Environment Minnesota spokesperson could not be reached in time for publication.

Jessica Harper is at

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