Letter: Greg Merle gives update without any answers

I recently attended a local Chamber of Commerce gathering on Earth Day, April 22, 2021, which took place at the Dale Community Center. Greg Merle, President of Riverview Energy, gave a four-minute update (without any visual aids) on the status of his Dale, Indiana, $2.5 billion refinery project. The take-away from that meeting and the questions remaining from Merle’s follow-up Q&A session are summarized as follows: 

CONSTRUCTION: In his update, Mr. Merle noted that he would begin breaking ground in the fourth quarter of this year, with no mention when the actual construction would commence. (but “some work” to begin in “a couple weeks”). However, as Riverview does not have a final design, has not yet sought RFQs (requests for quotations), and has not selected a general contractor, one wonders how all of this will possibly begin by the fourth quarter. The start of construction has been floating for months with 3 different dates given to-date, and obviously, not one has been delivered upon. 

ENVIRONMENT: While Mr. Merle aggrandized on the good he would be doing for the global environment, the glaring omission in his presentation was the great harm he would be doing to the citizens and environment in Dale and the surrounding counties. 

The product Mr. Merle is attempting to create is a low sulfur diesel fuel, which he stated is primarily for the global shipping industry. A January 2020 law (IMO 2020) mandates the shipping industry must use fuel with a 0.5 sulfur m/m content or lower. As the source of energy for the shipping industry is rapidly evolving, it’s likely there will be PLENTY of ULSD available at competitive prices by the time this refinery goes online. As well, many vessels have already installed scrubbers or converted to liquified natural gas (LNG). 

So, while Mr. Merle is seemingly concerned about the global environment, he leaves the citizens of Southwestern Indiana in an environmental nightmare. Do we not count? Do we have to be the sacrifice zone for the rest of the world? Mr. Merle did not address the 750 TONS of hazardous toxic chemicals that would be released each year nor did he definitively address the 2.2 million TONS of greenhouse gases this refinery would dump into our atmosphere annually (much less the noise, water pollution, and physical distraction this plant would bring). It seems the local environment is not a part of the global environment in Mr. Merle’s world. 

The above calculations come direct from Mr. Merle’s permit application. Not addressed in his permit is the pollution from the fuel source. Because the source would be coal, it is necessary to consider the pollution from mining the coal. Mining only one ton of coal releases 330 pounds of (CO2e) methane (which is even worse for the environment than CO2). Multiply that times the 1.1 million tons of coal being utilized at this refinery annually and you arrive at another 181,500 TONS of methane being released into the area from the mining. This doesn’t consider the added pollution from the thousands of trucks traveling in and out of the plant each year and the hundreds of railcars running through Dale each and every day. 

CARBON NEUTRAL: A press release recently noted the refinery will become carbon-neutral in TWENTY-NINE YEARS. This was nearly laughable. As the final design isn’t complete, why would Merle not design the refinery to be carbon-neutral from the initial construction? He noted it was the cost. 

The real answer would lie in the fact that the depletion for oil refinery equipment is 25-30 years. It would seem Mr. Merle is going to be carbon-neutral after the refinery is no longer operational and he leaves the rotting hull of his industrial monstrosity for the people of Spencer County to clean up. 

SMELL: Another question leaving attendees without an answer was regarding the sulfur stench that would be released from the refinery. One of the guests noted that to alleviate the terrible smell emitted by refineries, the sulfur by-product would need to be stored at high heat. No clear guidance came from Merle as to how he plans to handle this problem. Most certainly, if Mr. Merle is truly ready to begin this project by the end of the year, this problem (and thus the solution) has been addressed and Mr. Merle knows the answer. His hesitancy to give a clear answer leaves us with nothing but questions. 

After four long years of excuses, it’s time to devote our energy and attention to finding a new “Super Man” for Spencer County. There are thousands of businesses needing homes, and Spencer County is certainly ready, willing, and able to work with them. We can surely do better than one of the dirtiest industries in the world. Working together, we can find a solution that is beneficial to everyone, and most of all, good for the health and welfare of the citizens of Spencer County and Southwestern Indiana. Why doesn’t Spencer County attract the knowledge industries instead of the industries of yesterday with their dreadful environmental impacts? 

Four-plus years of ongoing promises with not one thing to show. What will the local proponents do if construction does not commence by year’s end? How many passes are our local officials willing to give Mr. Merle? 

John J. Stocker, Santa Claus, Indiana