DES MOINES (DTN) -- While federal officials expect more than 50,000 miles of carbon dioxide pipelines could be built over the next two decades, landowners from Iowa and Illinois at a public hearing this week called on federal pipeline regulators to issue a moratorium on any new carbon pipeline construction until new safety rules are drafted.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on Wednesday began a two-day hearing in downtown Des Moines focusing on potential new rules for carbon pipelines that the agency could begin drafting later this year.
PHMSA staff made it clear the agency's oversight involves the design, construction, operation and maintenance of pipelines but doesn't address issues such as siting or setbacks for those projects. PHSMA also doesn't get to decide whether to halt pipeline projects, and it doesn't have authority to issue moratoriums.
"We don't get to decide if they exist or not," said Tristan Brown, deputy administrator for the agency.
Right now, the country has about 5,000 miles of carbon pipelines across the country. Yet, due to the drive to take carbon emissions out of the economy, the Department of Energy estimates as much as 60,000 miles of carbon pipelines will be needed over the next two decades.
Midwest states are facing increasing requests for carbon dioxide pipeline permits as companies look to take advantage of tax credits and other federal incentives to capture, transport and sink carbon dioxide into the ground. Most of these pipelines are in the midst of various permitting plans in different states.
The ethanol industry has embraced carbon-capture plans to drive down emissions from biofuels, making Iowa a potential hub for carbon pipelines with at least three pipeline projects adding up to roughly 1,300 miles that will crisscross the state, linking ethanol plants then shipping the carbon to geological formations in either North Dakota or Illinois. The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association released studies earlier this year citing billions in financial impacts on ethanol companies in the state if they are not allowed to capture and sequester carbon.
Two companies, Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2, each have more than 30 ethanol plants and other agricultural industries signed up to take their carbon emissions. The two projects cross multiple states. Summit would sink its carbon in North Dakota, while Navigator would go toward Illinois. A third smaller project in Iowa would run from an ADM plant in eastern Iowa to Illinois as well.
Kevin Dooley, a carbon transport engineer with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), said the country will likely need between 30,000 to 60,000 miles of carbon pipelines to reduce carbon emissions from various industries by 2050. Beyond federal tax credits, Dooley noted DOE also has $10 billion in potential funding for carbon pipeline projects.
"We have to start somewhere to make that progress towards net-zero," Dooley said.
Carbon-pipeline opponents nearly filled the hotel ballroom on Wednesday, many wearing red shirts with logos calling for bans on the pipelines. Most of them were landowners who oppose the pipelines crossing their farms.
Pipeline companies were not among those who participated in the PHMSA panels or offered public testimony during the meeting, but they did have representatives at the meeting, as did the American Petroleum Institute. Summit Carbon Solutions released a statement on the safety of its project and cited the importance of PHSMA in working with stakeholders.
"While it should go without saying, Summit will comply with applicable regulations promulgated by PHMSA and other agencies. Our team of experts has almost 600 years of experience safely planning, designing, constructing, and operating pipeline systems and works diligently to ensure our pipeline will meet and oftentimes surpass these rules. We will conduct rigorous assessments, implement comprehensive monitoring systems, and utilize state-of-the-art technology to detect and prevent any potential issues," Summit stated.
Pipeline critics said carbon dioxide poses a unique risk because a rupture release is odorless and heavier than air, making carbon dioxide an asphyxiant. That was underscored by victims and first responders to the carbon pipeline disruption near Satartia, Mississippi, in February 2020 that hospitalized more than 40 people. First responders talked about vehicles that were unable to operate and people who were unable to breathe while trying to escape the carbon-dioxide plume.
"I don't have a pipeline running through my property, but I would be standing on the street with you if I had a pipeline running through my property," said Gerald Briggs, an emergency management coordinator in Mississippi.
While the Satartia pipeline rupture was more than three years ago, it was just last week that PHMSA announced plans for new safety measures related to carbon pipelines and the plans for new standards. PHMSA also announced a $3.8 million fine for Denbury Gulf Coast Pipeline, the company that operates the pipeline that ruptured.
Dan Harvey, a fire chief in Emmet County, Iowa, where both Summit and Navigator plan to cross, said he has not gotten answers from companies about how his group of volunteers would respond to a pipeline rupture. The Satartia rupture, for instance, was nine miles from a shutoff valve and released carbon dioxide for five hours. In rural Iowa, the companies are planning shutoff valves as far as 20 miles apart.
"We do not train for C02 disasters," he said, adding, "They absolutely will not tell you what will happen. Summit has not done one safety meeting yet."
Meredith McKean said the proposed Navigator pipeline could cross her parents' farm about 500 feet from the house and also would actually cut off their escape route should a rupture occur.
"What you are hearing is that relying on the companies to ensure safety is not a good policy," McKean told a panel of regulators. "These pipelines are not going through open terrain. They are going through towns, through schools and through farms."
Amanda McKay, a program manager with the group Pipeline Safety Trust, noted the PHSMA rule-making process will not keep pace with the construction of new pipelines.
"These pipelines are being proposed now and we need the rulemaking to be expedited," McKay said.
Jann Reinig was among those who also talked about their property and casualty insurer being unwilling to offer a policy on a carbon pipeline liability on their land. She said the pipelines would essentially take land without providing any protection.
"What business can we properly run or manage without liability insurance?" Reinig said. "The risk is very, very big."