Carbon-Capture Pipelines: Climate Aid 07/25 08:34
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- Two companies seeking to build thousands of miles
of pipeline across the Midwest are promising the effort will aid rather than
hinder the fight against climate change, though some environmental groups
The pipelines would stretch from North Dakota to Illinois, potentially
transforming the Corn Belt into one of the world's largest corridors for a
technology called carbon capture and storage.
Environmental activists and landowners have hindered other proposed
pipelines in the region that pump oil, carrying carbon that was buried in the
earth to engines or plants where it is burned and emitted. The new projects
would essentially do the opposite by capturing carbon dioxide at ethanol
refineries and transporting it to sites where it could be buried thousands of
Both companies planning the pipelines appear eager to tout their
environmental benefits. Their websites feature clear blue skies and images of
green fields and describe how the projects could have the same climatic impact
as removing millions of cars from the road every year.
However, some conservationists and landowners are already wary of the
pipelines' environmental benefits and safety, raising the chances of another
pitched battle as the projects seek construction permits.
"It seems like they are running a casino of risk and we are going to pay for
it," said Carolyn Raffensperger, the director of the Science and Environmental
Health Network, expressing fears about a leak that could put North Dakota
landowners like herself at risk. "We need to think this through very carefully,
and I do not see the players in place to do that."
The pipelines could fall into a longstanding divide among environmentalists.
President Joe Biden and many Republicans are pushing a strategy for tackling
climate change that offers a financial boon to industries that use carbon
capture and storage to reduce their emissions. But others, such as Greenpeace
and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, argue the focus should be completely on
developing renewable energy sources and that carbon capture just prolongs
dependence on fossil fuels.
Navigator CO2 Ventures, which is planning a pipeline that will stretch over
1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) through Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota
and Illinois, says it is offering "carbon capture solutions for a greener
planet." While Summit Carbon Solutions, whose pipeline will connect refineries
in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota to a sequestration site in North
Dakota, says it plans to build the world's largest carbon capture and storage
project. Both hope to start some operations by 2024.
"There's so much societal momentum that says this is something we want to do
-- should do, need to do -- for the public's benefit," said Matt Vining, the
CEO of Navigator CO2 Ventures. "My project and many others will get done and
should get done."
Supporters say the pipelines are a much-needed win for both agricultural
businesses and the environment. The two projects are expected to run into the
billions of dollars, spurring construction jobs. And they advance a technology
crucial to achieving a 2050 goal of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions -- in
which every gram of emissions is accounted for by providing a way to eventually
suck it back out of the atmosphere.
"All sides win. You significantly reduce carbon emissions, but you can also
maintain those industries that are the lifeblood of different regions of the
country," said Brad Crabtree, who oversees carbon management policy at the
Great Plains Institute, a Minnesota-based organization that works with energy
companies to develop environmental sustainability.
Crabtree, who also directs a group called Carbon Capture Coalition, sees it
as a way to bridge partisan divides as the country addresses climate change. As
evidence, he points to one high-profile Republican backer -- North Dakota Gov.
Doug Burgum -- who is pushing a plan to make the state carbon-neutral by 2030,
"through innovation not regulation."
The federal government set off the scurry of pipeline plans by increasing,
by 2026, tax credits to $50 for every metric ton of carbon dioxide a company
sequesters. California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard has sweetened the deal by
requiring that distributors in that state buy only ethanol with a low carbon
emissions impact; companies that produce such ethanol can get a higher price.
While the practice of storing carbon dioxide in rock formations has been
around for almost 50 years, developing technology that captures carbon
emissions has proven to be expensive and struggled to gain widespread use.
Ethanol refineries could represent the low-hanging fruit that helps push the
technology forward into widespread use. Plants such as corn are natural sponges
of carbon dioxide, absorbing the gas and storing carbon as they grow through
the spring and summer. When those crops ferment into ethanol, which is
eventually mixed with gasoline, it produces a steady, easily-captured stream of
"These early plants are relatively easy and that's a good place to start,"
said Greg Nemet, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who
specializes in the development of climate-friendly energy technology. "As that
gets shown and proven, you get some transportation networks, then it gets
easier to do the harder stuff later."
Achieving that harder stuff -- sucking carbon dioxide already in the
atmosphere or catching emissions at power plants -- will almost certainly be
crucial to beating back global temperature increases. The Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change reached that conclusion in 2018 as it laid out a path
to halting temperature increases to 1.5 C (2.7 F).
Despite concerns from Raffensperger and others about potential leaks from
the pipelines or storage sites, the Environmental Protection Agency has
concluded that storing carbon dioxide is safe as long as companies do it
carefully. It is injected in a liquefied state into porous rock formations,
where it eventually dissolves or hardens into minerals.
Crabtree said there has not been a single human fatality or serious injury
in the United States from transporting or storing captured carbon dioxide. He
thinks that as long as companies act responsibly, landowners will be convinced
the pipelines are safe and can benefit from them.
But Raffensperger still has a range of concerns, including whether a
technology that was developed by oil and coal companies can be trusted to make
a transformative difference in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Raffensperger's organization joined over 500 other environmental organizations
in an open letter to Biden denouncing carbon capture and storage as a climate
"We don't need to fix fossil fuels; we need to ditch them," the group wrote
in a Washington Post ad. "Instead of capturing carbon to pump it back
underground, we should keep fossil fuels in the ground in the first place."