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Environmental groups eyeing possible expansion of state's only refinery

Although plans aren't in place for the proposed expansion of Murphy Oil's Superior refinery, the Lake Superior Greens are keeping close tabs on developments. Greens' Chairwoman Jan Conley said they've joined forces with Clean Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association.

"This isn't a local issue, and I think Murphy is trying to frame it as such," Conley said. "It's really going to have effects on the whole state of Wisconsin. It's going to affect certainly people who live in Minnesota. The pollution that's generated by the 700 percent increase in the size of the plant is going to be experienced by people all over the Great Lakes, all over the country and, indeed, all over the world."

Conley said global warming pushes the $6 billion Murphy Oil expansion onto the global scene.

"I don't think we should really be building or expanding refineries at all, not just this refinery. The information is in. Global warming is here. It's real. It's already having impacts, and we need to be moving toward alternative energy sources. If we're going to sink this much money into something, I'd rather have it be building a new plant, Murphy going into a new area and doing something with green technology."

Conley realizes there won't be a lot of opposition locally to the expansion, but there will be from other regions of the Great Lakes. Expansion of the refinery may increase employment from 150 to 450 people, but Conley said the $6 billion price tag could do much more for job creation.

"I totally understand that. I mean, if people are going to choose between having a cancer ten or fifteen years down the line and eating the next day, they're definitely going to choose to eat the next day," she said.

"But it's not really like an either-or thing. For example, they talk about five hundred jobs, which really seems like a lot. But if you spent that same amount of money and put it into clean energy jobs, you create 7,000 to 8,000. That's a conservative estimate. Some people would say up to 12,000," Conley added.

Conley said, even as Murphy Oil explores expansion, it's not a sure thing.

"For one thing, Murphy hasn't found a partner," she said. "If it was such a fabulous deal, I'd be surprised that in the year or so that they'd been looking that someone hasn't stepped up and taken them up on it. I mean, if someone offered you a million dollars, you wouldn't say, 'Well, I'll just wait a year and see if I feel like taking it.' You'd grab it. So, I'm not sure about that."

Conley said the Lake Superior Greens intend to oppose expansion of Murphy Oil. One area of concern is that she believes Murphy Oil's expanded facility would use five million gallons of water a day from Lake Superior, recycling warm water back into the lake.