A controversial pipeline to transport toxic waste across McIntosh County is inching closer to reality. Representatives of Summit Carbon Solutions, the pipeline developer, updated the McIntosh County Commission on their progress earlier this month during the commission’s regular monthly meeting.
The $4.5 billion carbon-capture pipeline, if it can overcome significant opposition, would transport liquid CO2 from 32 ethanol plants across five states — Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and the Dakotas — to an underground waste site north of Bismarck.
Summit representative Joey Borracci said the company has secured 156 miles of voluntary easements in North Dakota — or about 46 percent of what’s needed. Nearly 60 percent of the necessary easements have been signed in McIntosh County.
The proposed pipeline would cross 34 miles of the county diagonally from 45th Ave. SE, about eight miles southwest of Ashley, cross two miles north of Venturia at the intersection of North Dakota Highway 11 and North Dakota Highway 3, into Logan County at 24th Ave SE. The length of the pipeline overall would span 2,000 miles at a depth of 4 feet through McIntosh County.
The project is slated to begin construction in 2023 and become operational in 2024. Borracci said the company will formally seek approval for the project from the North Dakota Public Service Commission this month.
The pipeline has been beset by lawsuits, including four civil cases filed in Brown, McPherson, Edmunds and Spink counties in South Dakota, objecting to the surveying of land without owner permission. Two civil lawsuits have been filed by Summit against landowners in McPherson (which borders McIntosh County) and Edmunds counties, in order to gain access to the land.
The McIntosh County Commission has gone on record opposing the use of eminent domain for the pipeline, something Summit representatives said in regional meetings that they don’t intend to employ to complete the project. However, in filings with the Iowa Utilities Board, the company threatened the use of eminent domain, meaning it could use the land over landowner opposition.
Summit says the project could initially sequester 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, equal to the annual carbon emissions of 2.6 million cars. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum calls it “a win-win-win for our farmers and ethanol plants, environmental stewardship and U.S. energy security.” Harold Hamm’s Continental Resources, North Dakota’s biggest oil driller, has invested $250 million in the project.
Some critics worry about the safety of the pipeline. If a pipeline leaks, a concentration of 10 percent of CO2 vapor causes unconsciousness within a minute. At 20 percent or more, it’s fatal. CO2 is heavier than air and can collect in low-lying areas. Two years ago, a CO2 pipeline burst near Satartia, Miss. Two hundred people were evacuated and 45 received medical attention, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. There were no fatalities.
Other critics say taxpayers are being fleeced by an already subsidized ethanol industry and companies like Summit. The Inflation Reduction Act increased the tax incentive for such pipelines from $50 to $85 for every ton of sequestered CO2.
Iowa has been a hotspot of opposition. Easements there just crossed the 50 percent mark. Food & Water Watch (an environmental watchdog) spokesperson Emma Schmit called the pipeline plan flawed technology “designed to funnel wealth from communities to corporations … corporate profiteering at our expense.” She added, “We refuse to also offer up our land, communities, health and safety so that corporations like Summit can make a quick buck.” According to Summit officials, the company stands to bring in as much as $600 million annually from the pipeline.
While landowners will benefit financially, under North Dakota law, the pipeline will enjoy a 10-year grace period from property taxes, so local governmental entities won’t see revenue anytime soon.
Anecdotally, easement payments vary significantly. Borracci noted that the company, in an apparent effort to engender goodwill, is seeking opportunities to contribute financially to public entities in the county as it has elsewhere.
This impacts a lot of North Dakota.