Carbon Capture Pipeline Projects

Iowa Press | Episode
Apr 7, 2023 | 27 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, our guests include Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, vice president of government and public affairs for Navigator CO2, and Jess Mazour, conservation program coordinator for the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club. They discuss the proposed carbon capture pipeline projects that could be built in Iowa. 

Joining moderator Kay Henderson at the Iowa Press table are Erin Murphy, Des Moines bureau chief for The Gazette and Clay Masters, host and lead political reporter for Iowa Public Radio. 

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa, Iowa Bankers Association and FUELIowa.



Proposed carbon capture pipelines have supporters and opponents all across the political spectrum. As companies work to acquire the land to build the projects, we'll talk about what is ahead on this edition of Iowa Press.


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For decades, Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, April 7th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson.


Henderson: This week we'll be discussing the three proposed carbon capture pipelines that will stretch through Iowa and some surrounding states. Let's take a look at the map and see where each of these three would pass. You're looking at the map and you're seeing that the Wolf Pipeline in blue would go about 300 miles through the state and it would connect to ADM ethanol plants. In the purple, you'll see the Summit Carbon Pipeline. It would stretch across about 680 miles and 29 counties in Iowa and end in North Dakota for underground storage. And finally, the Navigator CO2 Venture Pipeline, which has been called the Heartland Greenway, is in red. It would stretch 800 miles through about 33 counties and end in underground storage in Illinois. Our guests today are Elizabeth Burns-Thompson. She is the Vice President for Public Affairs for Navigator. And Jess Mazour is the Coordinator of Conservation for the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club. Joining our conversation are reporters Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio and Erin Murphy of the Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

Murphy: So, we wanted to start first, Kay mentioned carbon capture pipelines at the top and for those of us at this table who are involved in this we know what that means, but maybe for some folks who haven't been following this as closely, Elizabeth let me start with you, just kind of if you would describe what is exactly a carbon capture pipeline? What do they do? And what is the goal of these projects?

Burns-Thompson: Sure, and the pipeline is one component piece of what is the broader carbon capture system. So, from start to finish what this looks like is at each of our shippers, so those largely being ethanol plants or fertilizer facilities, those facilities are installing capture equipment that captures the CO2 emissions on site. That CO2 is then further purified, pressurized where it changes from a gas into a liquid. Then it is transported through that network of pipeline infrastructure, which is largely referenced to end destinations. So, you'll note I said that being plural. Ours necessarily from the geological storage component piece being in Central Illinois. And I'm sure we'll talk a little bit more about how that works later. But also, we're incorporating terminals along that footprint as well so that there's accessibility to that CO2 from market utilization here across the Midwest.

Murphy: And Jess, one of the things that folks who propose and support these projects say is that it's a benefit for the environment. Your group is obviously one that its mission is about protecting the environment. Why does Sierra Club take an issue with these projects?

Mazour: Well, there's countless reasons that we take issue with these projects. And really it comes down to the fact that these projects are all risk for us Iowans and all rewards for the people who work for the companies, who invest in the companies and that. So, we know that these projects not only destroy farmland but it is an abuse of eminent domain, it is a misuse of our public money. This federal tax credit that is funding a lot of these projects is meant to go to projects that do make an impact on climate change. And there are lots of tried and true ways that we know can mitigate climate change. And these projects are just risky and we don't think that they are going to do what they say they're going to do. And there is a good chance that a lot of the CO2 at the end of the day where these pipelines go to will be used to pump more oil out of the ground, which then eventually removes any sort of benefit for the climate. So, there's a lot of reasons. But I think it comes down to the fact that us here in Iowa, we do not benefit from these pipelines, it's the people who own them that benefit from them.

Murphy: Elizabeth, what do the safety aspects particularly in any pipeline project -- that comes up that discussion inevitably comes up -- how safe are these? And how much of a guarantee can you give landowners that this will be a safe thing and that there won't be irreparable harm done to land in Iowa by these projects?

Burns-Thompson: Sure, so kind of two-faceted there, both from the safety of transportation but also kind of the fulsomeness of land restoration. I'll try to touch on both. But when you're looking at the different modes of transportation that are available to transport any goods or services today, but specifically in the hazardous liquid sector, which is what CO2 classifies as, there's trucks, there's rail, barges and/or pipelines. And when you look at the safety record of all modes of transportation, pipelines are leaps and bounds in terms of the factors of safety. Largely, that is the component piece of the variables that are further within our control via pipeline transportation. In the United States we have about 5,000 miles of CO2, liquid CO2 transportation that operates today, some of those projects as close as Kansas and North Dakota that have been operating successfully and safely for years.

Masters: We want to get to the progress on some of these pipelines. First of all, we saw the map that showed that the Wolf Carbon Solutions Pipeline largely that has been taken care of as far as people getting that route going. About two-thirds for Summit has been secured. Where does the progress stand for where you guys are at Navigator for lining up access to build this pipeline in the state of Iowa?

Burns-Thompson: Sure, so I regularly tell folks that this is a robust undertaking. Robust infrastructure necessitates a robust timeline. We really brought the project forward beginning to have conversations with landowners back in December of 2021 and January of 2022. That is when we kicked off the Utilities Board informational meeting process, which is a necessary first step in this state to the development of projects like this. I think what most folks don't realize is we can't have conversations with landowners until that informational meeting takes place in that county. So, that is necessarily the first step. We then take that along with the surveying work that is necessary as next parts of that to begin to start with a broader corridor and winnow that down both through the feedback of landowners but also the technical component pieces that we gather via that survey work so that we can make sure that we're routing that pipeline or that footprint in a manner that is amenable both to the landowners as well as all the necessary technical components from the surveying. Think environmental components, biological components, cultural and historical things of significance that need to be accounted for. That is a long process. Then you get into negotiations with landowners. We didn't come forward and begin negotiating directly on dollars and cents and footprint really until last fall. So, we haven't been out in the field in about six months. To date in Iowa, I believe, my last record showed that we spent about $10 million on right of way. The project overall we spent about $15 million. So, we are continuing to make progress but it's a long pathway.

Masters: And Jess, some of the conversations that I know that your organization and you personally have been making with landowners in some of these counties that would be affected, talk a little bit about the coalition that you have met with of landowners and environmentalists and the opposition in that coalition that you have spoken with.

Mazour: Yeah, I'd be happy to talk about that. I do want to address one thing that Elizabeth brought up in regards to safety. These projects are not as safe as these pipeline companies say. And this kind of goes back to just the tactics that we've seen all three pipeline companies use. They're willing to say or do anything to get their pipelines approved. And it's not the total truth that these pipelines are safe. We're talking about CO2 that is taken from a gas to a liquid and put under upwards of 2,200 PSI and there's only 5,000 miles of these kind of pipelines in the country. So, it's relatively new technology, relatively untested. But we did see a rupture happen in 2020 in Mississippi and it put over 45 people in the hospital and over 300 had to be evacuated. And we know that when carbon pipelines rupture, CO2 is released into a massive cloud and it is heavier than air so it will travel to low lying areas. And if you're in that cloud you can't breathe. It displaces oxygen. And your car doesn't work, so you can't drive away and try to escape. And PHMSA, the federal pipeline agency, actually did an investigation into that rupture in Satartia and determined that they have to pass new rules because they don't have adequate safety rules in place for those pipelines. And so, one of the things we've been doing at the state level is trying to get information from the pipeline company so that we know what kind of risk our communities are facing. And so, the state of Iowa has requested from all three pipeline companies to get a risk assessment, the plume modeling to see where would the CO2 go in the event of a rupture and an emergency response plan so our rural volunteer fire departments can be prepared. And Navigator, as well as other companies, have refused to file those documents with the state and pipeline companies like Summit have actually sued counties for stepping in and trying to protect their own citizens with safety ordinances. So, I think that that's really important to bring up that these are not safe pipelines. But in regards to our coalition, I think it just highlights why this coalition has been built and so strong is because when it comes down to safety or when it comes down to land destruction or private out-of-state companies coming in and taking private land for their own benefit, that has brought a lot of unlikely allies together. We're working with people who are republicans and democrats, who are environmentalists, who are farmers, local county governments, legislators and it spans across multiple states as well. And when they did a recent poll it shows that 78% of Iowans do not want eminent domain for these carbon pipeline projects. So, it just shows that Iowa does not want this and these pipeline companies continue to lie and mislead and force these pipelines down people's throats. But right now I think what we're seeing is that this coalition is strong and over the past year and a half since these have been announced our coalition continues to grow and it is growing every single day and more and more people are coming forward to object. And so, I think that is what we need to be focusing on is Iowans do not want this project.

Henderson: Elizabeth, is your company refusing to answer questions about safety?

Burns-Thompson: I think that's a mischaracterization of what is happening. So, safety is necessarily overseen by the federal government. And when you break it down the functionality of the interplay between what the federal role is, the state role and then the roles of counties, we're all subject matter experts in different spaces. Safety is something, this pipeline should be just as safe in Illinois as it is in Iowa, as it is in South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska. And that is why safety regulations come from the federal level so that there is uniformity from every component piece of the pipeline. As it relates to siting and routing of that pipeline, that is an authority that has been given specifically to the states. As it relates to crossing of drainage districts or county roads, those are authorities that have been given directly to the counties. So, it's not to say that one entity in this process shouldn't and can't have a voice, they necessarily should. But, much like we talk about in a variety of aspects of permitting and oversight, there are spaces where folks are subject matter experts and have been given that authority to lead into.

Henderson: At the Statehouse, the Iowa House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted for a bill that would have required the companies, the two companies that are planning to seek eminent domain authority to acquire land from property owners who aren't willing to sign voluntary easements to have the pipeline go through, would have required 90% approval before eminent domain could be requested. Critics, like the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said it would kill the projects. Would it have killed your project if that bill became law?

Burns-Thompson: I think it makes it nearly impossible to develop infrastructure in the state. So, yes. What I would tell you is there is a reason that there hasn't been percentage thresholds put in place. Iowa would have been the first one had that gotten across the finish line. To date I think states, including the state of Iowa, federal siting entities, have not drawn an arbitrary line in the sand. I think it's a function also of the rules and the processes that exist right now ensure that 100% of the landowners are protected and under the same standard and thresholds of review and not just the first 90%, 80% or 70%. We have processes right now that ensure that everyone, regardless of where you fall in that timeline of easement acquisition, are given the same fulsome level of oversight.

Henderson: Jess, in case some viewers haven't been following, that bill died in the Senate and some of the Senators who were involved in considering a bill that would have some of the same things said it was their assessment that people who oppose the pipelines want the legislature to just outlaw the pipelines and they weren't even accepting some modest regulations, which they characterized as the 90% threshold and some of the other land restoration things. Why aren't critics at least willing to accept some rather than all?

Mazour: I'd say, first of all, I don't think the bill is dead. Really it might not have passed the funnel but the only thing holding it back from being brought back up is the political will and that is something that we can change. And we definitely support House File 565 with the 90% threshold. We would clearly like to see a full outright ban on eminent domain for carbon pipelines because this is the Pandora's box and if we allow these private companies to come in and set bad precedent that they can take private land for their profits then we've allowed many other projects to come in, in the future and abuse that system as well. So, we do obviously would like to see the full ban. But the 90% threshold is a good compromise that the landowners have said that they're willing to accept. And I think that if a company can't get that high of a level of voluntary easements it's pretty clear they're not wanted in the state. And that is not a good business practice to just force yourself on people that don't want it. So, I think we have to be really careful with the legislature to make sure they know that there's still something they can do and we're going to keep pushing them. And then also another reminder is that come next legislative session in 2024, at least two of the pipelines, two of the three pipelines won't have had hearings yet. And so that means we will have a whole other session, we'll be stronger, we'll be back up at the Capitol every week and it will be much closer to the 2024 elections.

Henderson: And I think you're referencing that the Iowa Utilities Board has already scheduled hearings this fall in regards to the Summit Pipeline. Erin?

Murphy: Elizabeth, this has been brought up a couple of times and one of the House republicans who was a leader on that bill has said that his opposition to the argument over public use versus public good. When we're talking about eminent domain and the government requiring landowners to allow these projects to go through their land, wondering if you could address that. Why should eminent domain be a tool available for private companies for a private project?

Burns-Thompson: Sure. And just for background, this is not a new application either, such that the thresholds or the background to application of eminent domain or condemnation authority is, like you mentioned, public good, public access. Generally those tenants lean back on the concept of a common carrier. We as Navigator operate just like common carrier pipelines that are carrying natural gas, crude and other refined products through this state such that we are the carrier of the CO2 on behalf of our shippers. So, at its core functionality we take that CO2 from point A to point B based on the will of those that are participating and partners on that line. If there is an additional shipper that came to market, we open, I should say we operate an open season where we came to the marketplace and asked what interest there is very much under the common carrier concepts. And twofold, as there is demand sectors that have interest or needs for CO2 for the bio-based manufacturing sectors that we have recruited into the state as we're looking at what CO2 can be further refined into, bio-based polymers and plastics or potentially a new wave of biofuels, that type of infrastructure is what is going to provide accessibility to bring those type of valuable sectors back into our state. What I also want to make sure that I highlight is when we talk about eminent domain as a tool of last resort, that's not just flowery language. If you back up and look at what eminent domain is and its core functionality, it doesn't save us time, it doesn't save us money and it doesn't make us any friends. And whether you are a pipeline developer, a corner coffee shop or anyone in the business world, you're looking at optimizing your time, your financial resources and you want the people that you're doing business with generally to like you. So, if for sheer fundamental business purposes at its core we are truly incentivized to do this project development in a voluntary fashion as much as possible.

Murphy: And maybe just real quick and I want to ask Jess something here too, but kind of taking a step back and maybe more broadly or philosophically speaking, again, the use of eminent domain we have federal tax incentives that help make these projects financially viable, so these are very much private projects that are supported in significant ways by government entities. Why should that be the case? Make that case to viewers. Why should the government be, I don't know if propping up is a fair way to put it, but investing so much in these private projects?

Burns-Thompson: The government invests in a variety of different infrastructure developments each and every day be it pipelines or other modes of transportation. Again, I get back to the concept of this does absolutely have public access. If you have a demand sector for CO2, if you have a supply of CO2, it is incumbent upon us as a common carrier to evaluate your ability to participate in that line should you show interest similar to accessibility to other common carrier type transportation mechanisms that operate in this country.

Murphy: Jess, it has been mentioned here already, but there are 5,000 miles of these kinds of pipelines throughout the country, any number of miles and miles and miles of other kinds of pipelines operating in this country. What is it about this project? Why is this one, one that your group is so adamantly opposed to versus other pipelines that are out there?

Mazour: I think there's just a number of reasons. It kind of goes back to it's all risk for us and all rewards for the companies. These aren't public projects. They don't provide a public good. There's no tap at the end of the line everybody where you can go get your daily dose of CO2 because that's ridiculous, we don't need that. Public projects are roads and bridges and water lines and things that we truly do rely on as citizens. And these projects are not that. These are private shareholders, Navigator one of their investors is BlackRock. So that's not, it's not something that is in the public good when we're giving eminent domain and massive amounts of tax dollars to companies like BlackRock. Just the tax credits alone that are on the table for these projects are upwards of $30 billion between these three projects alone and growing. And I think that's a huge red alarm. We should not be spending our public tax dollars on private projects that destroy our land and put dangerous pipelines and infrastructure into our communities. There's much better ways that we could be spending our money to actually mitigate climate change and there's better ways that we can take care of our soil. If we were to farm differently and just think about building healthy soil and what we are growing and how we are farming, we could capture a lot more carbon than these pipelines ever will.

Murphy: Again, just real quick I guess, couldn't you make those same arguments for other pipelines that have been previously built? I guess I'm just curious why this project specifically, these projects specifically have --

Mazour: Yeah, well there's been two pipelines of this magnitude that have come through Iowa, Dakota Access and now these three Summit, Navigator and Wolf. So, what we've seen through these pipelines is just the multitude of damages that happen. And so that is one reason that we're against it is we've fought Dakota Access, we learned from that process, we understood what kind of damage pipeline construction does to land and to our natural resources. And then this one is basically that on steroids in a big way because not only is it going to be the damage of the construction to our land and to our environment, but it's going to be misusing money that should be spent in ways that could mitigate climate change and these are incredibly dangerous. If these rupture in the wrong place, people could die. They're by schools.

Masters: I want to bring up something, she earlier was talking about emergency management services, and these are very rural counties. Folks that I have spoken with, city officials in real small towns have talked about concerns about responding if there were to be some kind of a rupture. What kind of conversations are you having with local officials, Elizabeth, when it comes to just EMS responding to the worst-case scenario if a disaster were to happen?

Burns-Thompson: Absolutely. So, we've done a robust amount of outreach on that front to date, both incorporating that into our initial outreach, we talked about safety in all of the informational meetings that we did throughout the Utilities Board process. But we knew that interfacing directly with those first responders, again, I'm from rural Iowa as well, grew up in an area that had a volunteer fire department. Not only is it largely rural volunteer forces but we also have a lot of communities that have 28E partners, mutual aid agreements with neighboring areas, regional hazmat units, so when we're going out and doing that development work with those folks we want to make sure that we have all of those entities sitting around the table, not just the communities that sit specifically directly on the pipeline footprint itself. So, to take a step back on what that step looks like, again, that's not a one stop shop. So, what we did throughout really the month of January and February is go out directly in these communities, not just in Iowa but really throughout the whole 1,300 miles, and sat down with local communities and did a training, bring them up to speed on what is CO2, what is the project in and of itself, ask questions about the design and the construction, the component pieces of operation. The next step from that being is sitting down then with those communities later this summer and on a very localized basis to say, what are the unique aspects of your community? And let's incorporate those into localized response plans because there is not one size fits all when it comes to localized response. And then from there, step three, an evaluation and inventory of the tools, equipment, technologies, maybe additional trainings that are also necessary. The fourth step of that being drills. We want to make sure that those plans are more than just words on a page, but you can actually effectuate response times, implement the equipment and things like that. Only at that point would that pipeline then be able to go into service.

Henderson: So, who pays for the extra training and the extra equipment?

Burns-Thompson: Those are costs that are born by us as the company and we've made that clear in every meeting that I've been part of to date.

Mazour: We've spoken with quite a few EMS people across the state who have not heard anything from any of the pipeline companies and feel ill prepared. They have been asking specifically for emergency response plans like you've been describing that would help them prepare and so far your company has refused to file any of that information. I think that is incredibly important that our EMS people are prepared. And when we have spoken with EMS people that have gone to one of these trainings, they say they come out of it thinking that oh these must be really safe, that's how it is being pitched. We've even heard that your company and other companies have related these pipelines similar to the CO2 in a pop can. And so, we know that the downplaying of safety is incredibly dangerous and I think that we need to be working, doing much better with our EMS services and with the state of being transparent about safety because there are risks --

Henderson: We have just a minute left and Clay has a final question.

Masters: Just quickly here, how long is this technology seen to be something that companies would want? 20, 30 years? There seems to be a lot of different ways that biofuels and ethanol industry goes. How long-term would this kind of a project be, Elizabeth?

Burns-Thompson: Sure, and I'll try to keep it short knowing that we're tight on time. The longevity of these projects really is in perpetuity. Carbon management and carbon as a value of the things that we produce today is something that is here to stay. So, the initial application of this into ethanol and ammonia production is I think the first step. We're going to see application into further processors both from an on-take as well as an off-take perspective as we develop additional industries to look at processing CO2 into the value-added projects of the future.

Masters: And Jess, quickly here, I'm curious as federal folks are looking at more EV production, do you see this being something that you're going to be pushing back against for a great number of years?

Mazour: Yeah, I think we're going to be pushing back against these projects and other false solutions that are pitched for a long time. And I know that these projects were supposed to have already had hearings based on their original timelines and they haven't yet. So, I'm showing, it's telling me that this opposition is strong. We don't want them. And we are going to keep fighting to protect our state.

Henderson: Well, we have to end our conversation at this table right now because we're out of time. Thanks to all of you for participating. You can watch every episode of Iowa Press at For everyone here at Iowa PBS, thanks for watching.


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