This story has been further updated.

FORT PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — An executive for the proposed Navigator project said Monday that he would purchase a home along a carbon-dioxide pipeline route, especially if it’s one he designed.

Navigator vice president of engineering Stephen Lee made his comments during day four of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission hearing on the company’s permit application.

“I think a majority of the public understand pipelines are the safest form of transportation,” Lee said in response to a question from state commissioner Gary Hanson.

Navigator wants to construct a line that would collect CO2 from three sites in South Dakota — the Valero ethanol plant at Aurora and the POET ethanol plants at Chancellor and Hudson — as part of a 1,300-mile network. The CO2 would be shipped to a site in Illinois.

The permit hearing continues Tuesday and is scheduled to run through Friday.

Lee said that proximity to a CO2 line probably isn’t the decisive factor in choices that the public makes about where to live.

Asked whether he believed a CO2 leak would affect property values above or near the pipeline, Lee said, “I do not.” He said CO2 has “zero long-term environmental” effects on a property’s usefulness.

Hanson said many people are concerned about having a pipeline crossing or near their properties. Lee answered, “I think they’re curious and trying to get the facts. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.” But, he also acknowledged, “it could be wise” for a landowner to disclose the presence or nearness of the pipeline when offering a property for sale.

“My last question is almost a facetious one – almost,” Hanson said: Would Navigator oppose the PUC hiring John Abraham to conduct a study?

Abraham, a University of St. Thomas professor, testified Friday as a witness for landowners opposed to the project. Abraham said that he would have used a different approach known as CFD — computational fluid dynamic modeling — to estimate the possible threat to the public from a pipeline rupture.

Navigator used PHAST and ALOHA modeling. Lee repeated Monday that Navigator in the past six months decided to have an outside vendor perform CDF modeling at what he called “strategic locations” along the 111-mile proposed route but that won’t occur for possibly six months.

State commissioner Chris Nelson pointed out that a decision must be reached on Navigator’s permit by the end of September. South Dakota law requires the commission to reach permit decisions on pipeline applications within one year in most instances.

Navigator has received confidential treatment of its plume-modeling analysis of the threat to the public from a rupture. State commission chair Kristie Fiegen asked Lee why Navigator has repeatedly objected to data requests from PUC staff. “When it comes to plume modeling, it is very complex,” Lee responded.

Fiegen said those delays hurt PUC staff witnesses’ ability to consider the answers before they testify later this week. Lee said it takes time to answer. 

Navigator’s chief attorney, James Moore of Sioux Falls, asked Lee how much the company had spent on plume modeling. Lee estimated that “hundreds of thousands of dollars have been utilized” generating PHAST and ALOHA models.

PUC staff attorney Kristen Edwards asked Lee whether Navigator would accept a requirement that the company submit quarterly monitoring reports after the project is complete, similar to what was placed on Dakota Access oil pipeline. “Yes, ma’am,” he answered.

Edwards then asked whether Navigator would be willing to accept a third-party monitor. “Absolutely,” Lee answered.

Edwards asked whether Navigator would share results of the CFD modeling with the state commission. “I wouldn’t object to that, and encourage it, actually,” Lee said.

Another witness Monday was John Godfrey, a salaried full-time consultant for DNV, the foundation that performed the PHAST plume modeling for Navigator.  

In his pre-filed rebuttal regarding Abraham’s statements, Godfrey stated, “Dr. Abraham fails to address the time and effort to produce just one CFD model related to a large linear project like Navigator’s proposed pipeline. In fact, a single scenario will take days to model using CFD. Evaluating multiple geographic sites under different seasons and weather scenarios for a single pipeline will exponentially increase this time and effort. It is simply impractical and unrealistic to use CFD to model plume dispersion for linear assets like Navigator’s proposed pipeline. Instead, PHAST modeling is a more practical approach that provides a sound means to assess multiple locations under a variety of scenarios in a reasonable and feasible manner.” 

William Taylor, a Sioux Falls lawyer representing several labor unions that would build the proposed project, asked how CFD fits into the regime of modeling. Replied Godfrey, “It is a method. There are a number of comercial programs out for CFD. Each has its own strength and weakness.” Godfrey said using PHAST and ALOHA to narrow areas for CFD was a “prudent” approach for modeling dispersion. 

Godfrey said the federal government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides a telephone service that first responders can call for air-dispersion information about specific sites. Landowners attorney Brian Jorde asked whether it would be “the right thing to do” for communities to know before an incident. Godfrey said it would depend on the circumstances. 

During the 9/11 attacks in 2001, he said, the federal government restricted information regarding where pipelines were the most vulnerable and the data still remains off-limits. “So, I disagree that the information should be publicly available and the (US) Department of Homeland Security agrees with me,” Godfrey said. 

Jorde asked Godfrey whether he thought “the people of SD aren’t quite bright enough to understand setbacks and buffers” in the plume-modeling report that Navigator wants kept confidential. Godfrey stepped around Jorde’s follow-up question of whether Navigator should provide the information to communities. “That’s not my decision to make,” Godfrey said. 

Commission chair Fiegen asked why the South Dakotans who live along the proposed route didn’t deserve the best dispersion model. She said they would “get to live in high stress every single day” and worry when they had even a headache.

Godfrey said the point of dispersion models is to better inform how to safely operate the pipeline. “You don’t have a dispersion cloud if you don’t have a release,” Godfrey said. “The activities that the operator are going to take to prevent that leak are going to be the same.” .

The hearing resumes Tuesday at 8 a.m. CT.