Portable Oil Refineries? Yes please!

North Dakota looks to keep its oil boom going.

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In this April 26, 2009 photo, a drill rig owned by Enid, Okla.-based Continental Resources Inc. aims for oil from the Three Forks-Sanish formation near Watford City, N.D. Dozens of fruitful wells beneath the rich Bakken shale in North Dakota continue to fuel a hunch among oilmen and geologists that another vast crude-bearing formation may be buried in the state's vast oil patch.

Gregg Laskoski is a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.

Unconventional thinking just might advance the U.S. energy boom and the nation's economy despite all the conventional thinking that Washington deploys to stall it.

One reaches that opinion by taking a glimpse at what is occurring far away from the Beltway, in North Dakota of all places. By now you know that thanks to the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota today produces more oil than any state except Texas. People are working and the only thing in shortage there is housing to accommodate the growth.

That's no blip on the radar screen; the fuel will be with us for many years. According to the state's Department of Mineral Resources, North Dakota's oil output will hit 850,000 barrels per day by early next year. And the most conservative analysts, according to Reuters, estimate that North Dakota has at least a 50 year supply of oil which is accessible by fracking.

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

Accessing that fuel and transporting it from more than 8,000 oil-producing wells takes fuel too. Diesel. Lots of it. But because the state has only one refinery, it imports more than half of the 53,000 barrels of diesel consumed each day that's needed to extract the oil and move it.  

The daily need is projected to grow to 75,000 barrels a day by 2025, says Reuters. And North Dakota has a novel solution to that problem: MDU Resources Group and Calumet Specialty Product Partners are designing a refinery that will be built by Ventech, a company that specializes in building refineries in remote areas. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

But it's not the kind of refinery you're thinking of. What they've got in mind they expect will be fully operational and producing 8,000 bpd of diesel in 20 months. It's a modular refinery. That makes it easier and faster to build and easier to take apart and move in the future if there's a need to do so. Yes, it's a portable refinery.  

The officials in North Dakota say they've got three new refinery proposals in the works. How refreshing is that?

With innovation like that and the remarkable absence of red tape, perhaps there's some versatility that could offer hope for California, Oregon and New York too? 

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