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Willston Herald - Mathern Says Refinery Should Be Built Now

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Willston Herald - Mathern Says Refinery Should Be Built Now

By Ken Hartman

An oil refinery should be built now rather than just being in the planning stages.

That's the opinion of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Mathern of Fargo, who was in Williston on Monday to promote his candidacy.

"To me, an oil refinery should be built now so that when the time comes, when there is less drilling activity, there is still an industry here and there's an industry that's going to pay high wages," Mathern said.

Asked why he doesn't think a refinery is further along, he replied, "I think the problem is leadership. When we look at what's possible and we look at the problems, then we don't move forward. When we look at the possibilities, decide we're going to build an oil refinery and how do we fix all those things to make it happen, then it gets done. That's why I think involving the state of North Dakota in the process addresses some of the red tape issue."

Mathern, who has been a State Senator since 1986, is one of three candidates running on the Democratic ticket. The others are Merle Boucher, State House Minority Leader and 2004 candidate, and Joel Heitekamp, State Senator and Water Users Association General Manager.

On the Republican side, Governor John Hoeven is running for his third term. He is being challenged by DuWayne Hendrickson, brother of a soldier killed in Iraq, and Jason Martin, a mediator.

Also in the field for the governorship is Independent candidate Gregg Boyer, a farmer, homebuilder and Army veteran.

Mathern said in order to prevent an oil bust, an industry has to be created that continues working even if drilling were to change or be reduced.

"We have a couple of indicators," Mathern said. "First, the last boom was certainly pumping oil continually after the drilling, so we still had oil. Another thing we have going right now is the Bakken Formation development, and from all indications, there's going to be oil coming out of the ground here for 50 to 100 years."

Mathern said the refinery needs to be built some place where it is close enough to a population center and where people will have free and easy access.

"I think we're talking about Dickinson, Williston, Minot -- that triangle," he said. "Some place in there. Where specifically it goes depends on where the oil has been found and where the pipelines are at.

"It should be on the drawing board now," he continued. "We ought to be putting steps in place to define the location, define the permitting process and putting the funding together so it can be built within a couple of years."

One of the problems the current boom has had, particularly on smaller communities, has been a strain on infrastructure.

"With an oil refinery comes the resources to build better roads, better systems," Mathern said. "The systems in place now to deal with drilling are really not permanent infrastructure enhancements. They're like getting by. I think an oil refinery is a 100-year consistent industrial working project that not only has good paying jobs, but high quality infrastructure."

Mathern said one of the problems with the boom is that a lot of old technology is being used. He said there is new technology available that can do this in a different way.

"The oil we have here is the best oil in the world in terms of the amount of toxins and other things," he said.

Mathern feels there are main issues in the state with health care being the number one issue. The others are property tax and energy.

"Health care costs have been going up double digits every year and we have another one (increase) coming up this year," Mathern said. "We haven't invested enough in healthy lifestyles and we could take many more steps to keep our citizens healthy. We have to figure out how to cooperate more in our health care industry which includes the providers and the insurance companies."

As far as property taxes are concerned, Mathern said they are too high and it's gotten lopsided.

"As the percent of state funding for the operation of the Williston schools around here has gone down, property tax has gone up and that is a problem," Mathern said. "The percent of the local education paid by the state has to go back up for the property taxes to go back down. We need to get education funding back on track and that's going to bring property taxes down."

On energy, Mathern said the area is on the brink of either another bust or having the awareness that they can combat and prevent a bust by recognizing energies such as wind, alternative crops and an oil refinery, to see a bigger picture other than just drilling rigs.

"Those are all things that stabilize energy income and energy policy," he said. "It would be wonderful if we could capture that anxiety by being proactive, being positive, learning from it (the bust) and making sure it doesn't happen again."

What does Mathern think he can do to make things better for North Dakotans?

"I believe we need to change how we're doing things, to be more proactive," he said. "We're too far behind in too many things. There are a host of issues where our state crows about having done this or that. But, when we really compare our state to other states, we're behind. It's because we wait too long to make a decision.

"We have to figure out how it is that we have industries and activities that compete in the whole region, the whole country," Mathern continued. "We have to have bolder leadership. I believe I've got the experience and I've got the education to lead. I believe I have what it takes to lead."

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