SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There’s a future for carbon dioxide pipelines in the Midwest, said Elizabeth Burns-Thompson of Navigator’s Heartland Greenway Project.
“Do I think it happens this year? I don’t believe so,” Burns-Thompson said. “I do think the infrastructure will get developed at some point down the road. Is this the time in which society is ready for it? I don’t know that society is ready for it.”
Navigator is one of the CO2 pipeline players in the Midwest that has dropped out of the picture. On Oct. 20 Navigator announced that it was canceling its proposed 1,300-mile project. It cited “the unpredictable nature of the regulatory and government processes involved, particularly in South Dakota and Iowa,” in its release. Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed project is still in the process after it said it would re-apply for permit after the PUC denied the first application in September.
The South Dakota PUC denied Navigator’s CO2 pipeline permit in September.
About 112 miles would have traveled through South Dakota. The pipeline would have received captured carbon at ethanol and fertilizer plants for burial in Illinois. Navigator officials said throughout the past roughly two years that burial was a destination for CO2 but the company was also working with partners to access CO2 from transmission sites on the pipeline. The CO2 could be used in the concrete, jet fuel, plastics and other industries. Capturing CO2 would also have reduced carbon emissions from ethanol plants which would allow it to sell more ethanol to markets in California and Canada, which have strict carbon regulations.
“Looking back, I wish we would have called it a transportation network instead of a pipeline, Burns-Thompson said somewhat in jest. But in a serious tone, Burns-Thompson said the project was a victim of the story, or model, that the pipeline would be created for only the sequestration of CO2.
Navigator has invested hundreds of millions in the Heartland Greenway project. That includes money already paid to landowners for easement options, Burns-Thompson said.
Missteps? and eminent domain
Burns-Thompson said she has spent time the past couple of weeks, “Thinking about what would I have done differently or what could we have done differently.”
Burns-Thompson said more education and public understanding of the development of infrastructure would have been helpful.
Navigator could have been more cognizant of the level of fatigue landowners may have had with projects, she said. Some of the farms had easements or agreements with solar, or wind, or other projects which can create fatigue for what’s next, Burns-Thompson said.
The education about the process including a sticking point of the emergency response plan was difficult, Burns-Thompson said. Emergency plans are typically hyper-local and not completed until a more defined route is approved, she said. The plan must include, for example, which side of a highway a vehicle may be on in an emergency response.
In many ways, “our hands were tied,” as to what could be shared and how early it could be shared, but that wasn’t necessarily true in South Dakota, she said.
Another narrative emerged in opposition to the proposed CO2 pipeline: eminent domain.
“Frankly, I’m not sure what the solution is here on this, the conversation about eminent domain has dominated so much of the last 2 1/2 years of my time on the project. I don’t say that to be exhaustive of the topic,” Burns-Thompson said
Farmers and landowners were fearful they would lose their land, she said. That wasn’t in “any, way, shape or form what we were setting out to do.”
The use of eminent domain is a last resort for pipelines or infrastructure projects, she said.
It was hard to overcome the fear of eminent domain, Burns-Thompson said.
“…when you have this picture painted, by folks who were opposing the project, frankly, that spent more time talking about eminent domain than they did about the substantive portions of the project. That’s unfortunate.,” Burns-Thompson said.
Navigator was working in five states and the permit process in each state differed.
Not only were the processes different, there were differences in what each public utilities commission or board oversaw, Burns-Thompson said.
While eminent domain emerged as a big topic in South Dakota during comments to the state’s Public Utilities Commission, eminent domain is not in the PUC’s oversight. The PUC announced that at each public meeting but eminent domain dominated much of the comments, Burns-Thompson said.
Comments and conversations about eminent domain were appropriate in the Iowa Utilities Board permit process because that board oversees eminent domain, Burns-Thompson said.
Burns-Thompson said Navigator did not ask for project support from political or government officials such as lawmakers or governors.
But a large chunk of the opposition from lawmakers focused on eminent domain.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem was called out by several lawmakers for not calling a special session on eminent domain as it related to the proposed C02 pipelines. The South Dakota House passed legislation that prevented CO2 pipelines from being treated as a common carrier as it relates to eminent domain. The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee killed a similar bill in committee. Lawmakers also testified before the PUC against the Navigator permit application.
“Yes, I do wish we had more political cheerleaders to step up and tell the story,” Burns-Thompson said. But, that wouldn’t be for the Navigator project alone, but also for the technology, she said.
Stakeholders and others are discussing regulations and structure related to CO2 and pipelines at the federal level, Burns-Thompson said.
It would be helpful if permitting or parts of the process were consistent from state to state, she said.
Why Burns-Thompson believes CO2 infrastructure will happen in the future
“In the state of South Dakota every single ethanol plant is committed to on-site carbon management,” Burns-Thompson said. That included through Navigator’s defunct project or the current Summit Carbon Solutions CO2 project or other proposals, she said.
The commitment is similar in Iowa and Illinois.
The ethanol industry realizes that carbon capture, including CO2 pipeline transport for burial and to provide access for eventual industry users, is in demand and good for their economic footprint, she said.
A project like Navigator proposed is one piece of ethanol’s commitment to carbon management and reducing emissions.
A carbon intensity score can be tied to the farming practices used to produce the corn and investments made at ethanol plants to reduce carbon, she said.
“The conversation about carbon I don’t believe is going away even if this project does go away because the marketplaces aren’t going away,” Burns-Thompson said. “Customers are continuing to demand products based on carbon intensity. That is a value or characteristic that is important to them and they will pay for products to be produced differently based on carbon intensity scores.”
But in October of 2023, the conversation ended for Navigator.
“I do think we had a very good project. I don’t know that society (was) ready,” Burns-Thompson said.