Why Iowa Farmers and Environmentalists Want to Stop a Carbon Pipeline

Residents of rural Iowa are beginning to hear from pipeline companies that their properties lie along proposed routes for pipelines carrying carbon dioxide. If landowners do not voluntarily grant them access to drill on their land, companies could still obtain permission to do so through the “eminent domain” process.

Such designations, which are permitted for projects that are in the public interest, attracted less than positive attention after the arrival of the Dakota Access Pipeline and caused long-term damage to some lands and crops.

Even those without land along the route have a stake in protecting the environment and fighting climate change. But these carbon capture projects are being touted as solutions to environmental problems that some Iowans weren’t even sure about. Navigator CO2 Ventures, one of three companies that will seek approval from the Iowa Utilities Board, would take carbon dioxide emitted from ethanol and chemical fertilizer plants and transport it to a destination in Illinois to be dehydrated and buried deep underground. The other two companies are Summit Carbon Solutions and Archer Daniels Midland.

So far, CO2 has been released into the air by ethanol plants, but this has been downplayed as a problem. “It exposes the lie that ethanol is clean energy,” quips Ed Fallon of Bold Iowa, a nonprofit organization opposed to the project. What if the shows really weren’t disturbing, then would we embrace something classified as a “dangerous project” – let alone want it to take place under our properties?

At a briefing in Ames this month, Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, vice president of public affairs for Texas-based Navigator, said Iowa needs a pipeline because its geology doesn’t is not suitable for burying carbon dioxide here. The pipeline would run 1,300 miles, including more than 800 in Iowa, which she says represents a $3 billion investment, of which $1.6 million would stay here, generating 5,000 jobs.

Burns-Thompson, who described herself as a “farm kid from here in Iowa,” said the project was valuable to the farming community. “This is your land. Treating it with the utmost respect is our top priority,” she said of Navigator and project partners Valero Energy Corp. and BlackRock Global Energy & Power. “The facility could reduce its carbon intensity score by 50%,” she said.

Carbon pipeline projects rely on large tax incentives

As she acknowledged, one of the main drivers of these pipeline projects is to take advantage of the federal government’s tax incentives. The tax benefit colloquially known as 45Q offers $50 per tonne of permanently sequestered CO2, or $35 if used for enhanced oil recovery, another option. Eventually, Navigator hopes to store 15 million tonnes.

But using taxpayers’ money for fossil fuel production isn’t quite what some environmentalists have in mind. “It’s a fake climate solution,” says Carolyn Raffensperger of Ames, an environmental lawyer and executive director of the National Science and Environmental Health Network. She shared a report compiled by environmental historian Peter Montague on seven failed carbon capture projects in the United States and one in Canada. Significantly, Archer Daniels Midland had one.

“Archer Daniels Midland does not appear to share federal officials’ enthusiasm for carbon capture and storage,” the report said, noting that a feasibility study by a company to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions greenhouse of 25% did not even include carbon capture and sequestration. The company wrote in 2020 that “the ability to capture stack emissions and sequester them is likely 10 years away.”

Montague added, “Nevertheless, in early 2022, ADM announced that it was partnering with Wolf Carbon Solutions to develop a pipeline to vent carbon dioxide from ADM’s facilities in Clinton and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and” The pipeline will have a reported capacity of 12 million tonnes of liquefied carbon dioxide per year, far more than ADM would need on its own.”

Concerns abound, including ‘prolonging the age of fossil fuels’

Some opponents say such measures would either help prevent real changes in our carbon footprint or quickly become obsolete as electric cars gain popularity and ethanol is no longer needed to power them. The Center for International Environmental Law says: “So far, carbon capture and storage (CCS) has been used primarily to ‘keep the coal industry alive’” and for the benefit of gas interests and oil tankers.

A researcher at the center says the practice “masks harmful carbon emissions from the underlying source, allowing that source to continue operating,” creates additional risks and costs for pipelines, and “exacerbates global warming by increasing oil production and prolonging the era of fossil fuels”. .“

Jessica Mazour, conservation coordinator at the Iowa Sierra Club, says that for every ton of CO2 sequestered, 1.2 to 1.4 tons would be generated by fossil fuel extraction. She calls it “greenwashing”, a “false climate solution, when we should be investing in solar, wind, battery storage, conservation and efficiency”.

There are also concerns about conflicts of interest in Iowa’s approval process for such projects. Former Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, has a financial interest in pipelines as a policy adviser for Summit Carbon Solutions. Branstad also named, when he was governor, two of the three Iowa public utility board members who would vote on approval. The third was appointed by Governor Kim Reynolds, who was lieutenant governor of Branstad before becoming governor.

Reynolds also called for state investment in carbon capture solutions. On Radio Iowa, she highlighted public funding from Iowa State University to research how Iowa farmers could get carbon credits for planting crops.

As it stands, says Raffensperger, “Iowa is the most environmentally damaged state in the Union. Yet its public universities get money to do research that benefits business. “Where is the funding for academic research that will solve the climate problem?

Branstad attempted to discredit the Sierra Club for its opposition to these pipelines. He signed a letter sent to residents of about a third of Iowa counties asking them to support the Summit pipeline and not be “bullied” by the Sierra Club: “They are not your friends and they will be gone long after destroying the pipeline”. the ethanol industry and the value of your corn-growing land.

Then there is an element of secrecy. Bruce Rastetter, CEO of Summit Agricultural Group, Summit’s parent company, asked the Iowa Utilities Board not to publicly release the names of landowners along roads, for privacy and because it might help Summit’s competitors. But the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Advocate has called for the names to be released, saying landowners who oppose the project should be able to mount a common defense.

Opponents come from diverse backgrounds, and they are organized

Steve Higgenbottom, a landowner in Wapello County, Iowa, once felt burned by the Dakota Access Pipeline that crosses his property. Now his land is in the way of another pipeline project. Last time crews dug 30 feet to install the pipeline and put terracing on top, but the terracing has settled and now it has drainage problems “from football fields away from the pipeline”. He said the company would not return to fix the issues; he estimated it would take $100,000. He calls this plan “a pie in the sky”.

To date, 15 county supervisory boards have voted to oppose the use of eminent domain to gain access to people’s lands, according to Mazour.

The risk of pipeline rupture and carbon dioxide leakage is also of concern. It happened in 2020 in the small Mississippi community of Satartia. In the HuffPost, journalist Dan Zegart reported that two dozen people were “overwhelmed within minutes, collapsing in their homes; at a fishing lodge on the nearby Yazoo River; in their vehicles. Cars burn out because they need oxygen to burn fuel. Drivers rushed out of their paralyzed vehicles, but were so disoriented they just drove around in the dark.

In Satartia, residents at least got a warning, says Raffensperger, because hydrogen sulfide, which smells bad, has been mixed with CO2, which doesn’t smell good. If that concentrate were dumped in Iowa and mixed with water from a stream, it would acidify the liquid, making it undrinkable, she said.

If there’s any encouraging news here, it’s that this time more people are paying attention. The Sierra Club partners with eight other nonprofits to organize a diverse group of opponents, some 650 of whom meet weekly, Mazour says. “We were told we were supposed to hate each other,” she said of the urban and rural, Democratic and Republican cross-section, “but we actually have a lot in common. We care deeply of the earth.

Raffensperger, who has read hundreds of comments submitted to the Public Utilities Commission by affected parties, sees an extraordinarily powerful story of landowners working with environmentalists for future generations. “This conversation is fundamentally different from anything I’ve seen in Iowa,” she said.

Could that be enough to fend off the big money and powerful forces at play?

“Money is the second most powerful driver in politics,” said Fallon, a former Iowa lawmaker. The only greater force, he said, “is the votes”.

Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register.

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