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ROSEMOUNT, Minn. -- Flint Hills Resources is seeking permission from the state for a series of projects that would upgrade the Pine Bend Refinery south of the Twin Cities.

Flint Hills spokesperson Jake Reint told KARE the company is hopeful that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will give the go-ahead in time for construction to begin in early 2014.

"We feel good about the project," Reintsaid. "It's an investment in the health of this refinery, which, of course, is a pretty important asset in the upper Midwest."

The refinery supplies half of all the gasoline sold in Minnesota, and much of the gas sold in Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas. The facility also produces large quantitiesjet fuel, diesel, propane, butane, asphalt and sulfurused in fertilizer.

The plant processes an average of 277,000 barrels of crude oil per day, but the proposed upgrade would bring it closer to its 320,000 barrel capacity.

"We're basically takingtwo heaters that are less efficient, and replacing them with more efficient, state-of-the-art equipment," Reint explained. "That's going to improve our utilization, improve our ability to use our existing operation."

More production will lead to a higher output of carbon dioxide, which is now regulated as a greenhouse gas in the US. So the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will have to sign off on the projects through its permitting process.

But in recent years the refinery has significantlylowered emissions of two key pollutants, including sulfur dioxide andnitrous oxide. Sulfur dioxide is acontributor to acid rain, and nitrous oxide combines with oxygen to create the harmful variety ofozone.

"In the last 14 years we've reduced our emissions by a total of 70 percent, so these projects will allow us to continue to make some really important emissions reductions," Reint said.

Pine Bend is already is the largest continuous construction project in the state, with equipment being refurbished and replaced on an ongoing basis.

That work bringsat least 500 contractors to the site most days,in addition to the refinery's full-time staff of1,000 workers. Reint said theproposed upgrade would double that number to at least one thousand contractors for the five-year life of theproject.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is in the process of reviewing the application, and will be accepting public comment. For more on the permits, visit thisMPCA public notices page on the agency'swebsite.

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