This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The Summit pipeline is at least 2,000 miles long, not 469 as it was previously reported. The lesser amount is the miles proposed in South Dakota.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The public may be used to natural gas and oil pipelines traveling through the countryside. But two new proposed pipelines would carry thousands of gallons of liquid CO2 (carbon dioxide) across South Dakota as well as parts of Iowa and Minnesota.
Liquid CO2 differs from natural gas. It’s not flammable but it could smother animals and cause illness in people, under certain conditions. Unlike natural gas, which is used to heat and cool homes and businesses, representatives of the two proposed pipeline projects said the liquid CO2 would be stored underground indefinitely, either in North Dakota or Illinois.
It’s a different kind of harvest for the cornfields of the three states.
CO2 currently produced at ethanol plants goes into the air. While plants use CO2 to grow and there is CO2 in the air, too much of it can be harmful.
Pipelines would capture CO2 from ethanol plants, which would reduce the plants’ overall carbon footprint and allow those plants to sell ethanol at a higher price in markets such as California, which has strict carbon guidelines.
Opponents, or at least those with questions, said the proposed pipelines are potentially harmful if they leak and would harm land productivity when constructed. Critics say the pipelines are a way for big companies, even big oil, to capitalize on tax credits at the expense of small landowners.
Those with concerns and questions also worry that captured CO2 will be used to extract oil, despite company representatives saying there is no plan to use the CO2 in oil production.
“It’s the little guy against the big guy,” said Rick Bonander, who lives in Minnehaha County near Valley Springs. His property, including an area where bald eagles nest, is within the possible pipeline route for Navigator.
Representatives said the projects will benefit ethanol plants and fertilizer plants in rural areas, which will have a positive impact on those rural areas.
“Our main goal is to increase the profitability and long-term viability of ethanol plants,” Summit’s Jake Ketzner said in a Jan. 13 hearing of the South Dakota’s Legislature’s Senate Commerce and Energy Committee.
The two companies have not yet applied for any permits in South Dakota, Iowa or Minnesota. They have conducted informational meetings. Navigator has scheduled two meetings for Tuesday, Jan. 18; one at 11 a.m. at the American Legion in Garretson and the second at 5:30 p.m. at the Janklow Community Center in Flandreau.
The pipeline developers will be seeking easements from landowners along a proposed route.
The federal government is encouraging CO2 capture with various incentives and as a way to reduce the amount of a greenhouse gas released into the air, according to an October 2021 report from the Congressional Research Service.
Thousands of miles of pipeline
The Navigator CO2 project is called Heartland Greenway. It will be a 1,300-mile route with new pipeline for about 20 receipts sites that include ethanol plants and fertilizer processors, said Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, the vice president for government and public affairs for Navigator CO2.
“We’re looking to capture and gather the CO2 at each of those (receipt points), dehydrate it, take out as much of the water as possible, compress it so it changes from a gas into a liquid and then move it through that pipeline infrastructure,” Burns-Thompson said.
The Summit system is similar but it would be about 2,000 miles long. It would be about 469 miles long in South Dakota, Ketzner said at the Jan. 14 state committee meeting.
CO2 made up the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2019, according to the EPA.
The CO2 that would be captured and compressed at ethanol plants is currently emitted into the air.
“It’s new technology that hasn’t been proven yet,” said Peg Furschong, the director of CURE in Montevideo, in southwest Minnesota. CURE advocates for rural Minnesota on a variety of issues.
It is newer technology in the upper Midwest but there 5,000 miles of CO2 pipelines in the U.S. and there have been a variety of applications used around the world for decades, Burns-Thompson said.
A January 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Energy said there were 4,500 miles of CO2 pipeline in the U.S.
Furschong said the organization is working with landowners who may be impacted by the Summit route to get more information and to make sure Minnesota does its due diligence before approving the proposed project.
Liquid CO2 differs from natural gas
The material in a natural gas pipeline is transported in pipelines that are roughly six to 48 inches in diameter at a pound per square inch of 200 to 1,500 PSI.
CO2 is transported in pipelines from about 1,300 to 2,100 PSI. Also water is a material that can be contained in CO2.
“Purity overall is incredibly important to this system,” Burns-Thompson said.
Ethanol plants and fertilizer processors already have high levels of purity in CO2 streams at 96% and 97% pure, Burns-Thompson said.
Navigator CO2 wants a minimum threshold of 98% CO2, Burns-Thompson said.
Water and CO2 have the potential to create carbonic acid. At high levels, carbonic acid can cause respiratory issues if there is a leak.
In some cases, leaks in CO2 pipelines have caused the death of animals and illness in people.
A CO2 pipeline ruptured in Yazoo County near Satartia, Mississippi, on Feb. 22, 2020. Residents reported a fog-like substance. At least 46 people were hospitalized and hundreds were evacuated.
Yazoo County Emergency Management said the pipe included CO2 as well as hydrogen sulfate.
“Through an initial investigation, the rupture could be a result of recent weather events. It appears the ground caved into a ravine damaging the 24-inch pipe,” Yazoo County Emergency Management said.
“I have concerns about ruptures…,” Iowa landowner Mitch Magill said. “I have huge concerns about the safety of the pipeline.”
Magill owns 57 acres in Iowa County, Iowa, where a pipeline could possibly travel through. Magill pointed to the Feb. 20, 2020, rupture in Mississippi.
“It’s not a question of if it ruptures, it’s when it ruptures,” Bonander said.
“Safety is our top priority,” Ketzner said of Summit’s plan on Jan. 13 in Pierre.
Summit plans to use high strength carbon steel for its pipeline and it will be buried at a minimum of four-feet deep, he said.
The industry is learning from the Feb. 20, 2020, incident in Mississippi, Burns-Thompson said.
Burns-Thompson said investigations so far have shown record rainfall caused a mudslide near Satartia. Also, Navigator is looking at a pipe that has the ability to bend before it breaks, which is different from the Mississippi pipeline.
The presence of other material in the CO2 pipeline in Mississippi also points out the need for the material in the Navigator pipeline to be as pure as possible, which is the reason for the 98% pure minimum standard, Burns-Thompson said.
Eminent domain? Public or private?
Furschong said several farmers have shared concerns about the possibility of pipeline investors using eminent domain to secure easements for the CO2 pipelines.
The Sierra Club chapter of Iowa has links to resolutions or letters from several Iowa counties that oppose the use of eminent domain they’ve sent to state regulators.
Magill said the possible use of eminent domain concerns him. He does not plan to sign an easement.
Burns-Thompson said Navigator CO2 wants to work collaboratively with landowners.
“Eminent domain is a right in many cases determined by the regulatory agency (in each state). It’s something we take incredibly seriously,” Burns-Thompson said. “It’s not a tool or tactic that anyone wants to utilize.”
Bonander questions how either of the two private companies could use eminent domain since they are not a public utility.
Some states have been willing to allow eminent domain as they have declared CO2 pipelines to be in the public interest, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Dan Henriksen, a farmer in Redwood County, Minnesota, said he has questions about the Summit proposed project. The proposed pipeline impact two 80-acre parcels of his property as it would travel a fence line.
There are already seven electric transmission poles attached to a major project near or on his property.
Henriksen is concerned about landowners being treated fairly and has questions about how the process works for a private entity as compared to a public utility.
Burial in North Dakota or Illinois
The captured CO2 will be buried or sequestered in an area of North Dakota or Illinois, according to pipeline representatives.
Those opposed and/or those with questions believe there may be a possibility the two companies will eventually use the captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery.
Captured CO2 is often used for enhanced oil recovery. It’s process that has been used since at least the early 1980s.
According to the EPA, 57% of the CO2 captured from industrial processes and 93% captured from natural sources were used for enhanced oil and gas recovery in 2020.
“As CO2 dissolves in the oil it swells the oil and reduces its viscosity; affects that also help to improve the
efficiency of the displacement process,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
There have been several instances of CO2 enhanced oil recovery use pipeline ruptures. Some ruptures have killed animals.
Ketzner said at the Jan, 14 committee meeting in Pierre the captured CO2 in the Summit project would be transported to a site in North Dakota.
“It will be sequestered in an area that does not have oil,” Ketzner said. “We are not using this for enhanced oil recovery.”
Navigator CO2 does not plan to use captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, Burns-Thompson said.
The pipeline representatives said the end sites were chosen for their geological make up.
Jimmy Powell, the chief operating officer of Summit, said at the Jan. 14 committee the layer of caprock and low seismic activity support the long-term storage of captured CO2.
The Environmental Protection Agency in 2018 granted North Dakota the ability to issue Class VI wells for CO2 storage or geological sequestration.
The University of Illinois describes a CO2 site in the state as “stored in the pore spaces of the sandstone and sealed in place by a cap layer of impermeable shale.”
Private project, taxpayer money
Furschong said the pipeline projects appear to be funded mostly by private investment.
The website for the two proposed projects share minimal information about investors.
Blackstone is a major investor in the Navigator CO2 project, Burns-Thompson said.
In all three states, the pipeline companies must use regulatory agencies that typically deal with public projects.
“It’s not like a utility,” Furschong said.
The Summit and Navigator projects would both use tax credits provided in the 45Q, which provides a tax credit for each metric ton of sequestered CO2.
The tax credit can be applied as the projects make money.
For example, an ethanol plant gets improved carbon scores for amounts of CO2 it has sequestered, which in turn allows it to sell ethanol at a higher price including in strict carbon states such as California. That should increase the profit for the ethanol plant.
Powell said as the ethanol plants make additional profit with the Summit pipeline, the profit is split with Summit.
Burns-Thompson said the pipeline users pay for a contract.
Furschong said there is a danger that incentives such as 45Q can benefit big oil if the captured CO2 is used for enhanced oil recovery. Also, incentives can also promote an outdated use of fuel such as ethanol as there are increased shifts to electric vehicles, she said.
CO2 capture may be touted as green and sustainable but ethanol plants need to look at more sustainable options such as jet fuel, Furschong said.
The shift to electric vehicles won’t happen as quickly as some may predict, she said. Even the Energy Information Agency report of February 2021 anticipates that the majority of vehicles made in 2050 will still be liquid fuel vehicles, Burns-Thompson said.
The U.S. Energy Information AEO 2020 reference report said 81% of vehicle sales in the U.S. in 2050 will be gas and flex fuel vehicles.
Still, “How we go about producing ethanol in the future will look different,” Burns-Thompson said. And ethanol plants need to adjust, she said.
But the pipelines could be tough projects to achieve.
While Magill, like Bonander, said this could be a case of small farmers going up against large corporations, he does know that many landowners in his county and in nearby counties are not in favor of the Navigator project.
Burns-Thompson said the project needs support in all of its planned route states in order for it to be built.