GALESBURG — If you live in western or central Illinois, there’s a chance a 1,300 mile-long pipeline could be built nearby.
Named the Heartland Greenway, the project would bury a pipeline at least 5 ft. underground to transport carbon dioxide (CO2) from at least 20 different ethanol processor plants across five midwestern states.
While the company that plans to build it, Navigator CO2 Ventures LLC, affirms it would pay landowners well and offset the emissions of 15 million metric tons of CO2 every year, critics are concerned the pipeline could permanently damage farmland and threaten the safety of residents in its path.
Who is Navigator CO2 Ventures LLC?
Navigator CO2 Ventures LLC (Navigator) is a Nebraska-headquartered company specializing in the capture, transportation and storage of CO2. The company is a subsidiary of the Texas-based Navigator Energy Services, which specializes in the same large-scale services for natural gas and crude oil.
Navigator intends to capture CO2 produced as a byproduct from ethanol and fertilizer plants, and dehydrate and compress that CO2 into a liquid. The company would then transport liquid CO2 through pipelines to permanent storage facilities it constructs.
According to Navigator’s website, the company has built over 1,300 miles of pipeline since 2012.
What is the proposed Heartland Greenway project?
Heartland Greenway is a Navigator-proposed pipeline that would start in South Dakota and travel southeast. It would branch into Nebraska and Minnesota, the majority of it would stretch across Iowa, and it would end in a storage facility in Christian County, Illinois. There, millions of tons of CO2 would be permanently sequestered approximately 6,000 ft. underground.
Heartland Greenway would connect to the Big River Resources ethanol plant in Galva and approximately 240 miles of the pipeline would stretch through these 13 Illinois counties: Hancock, Adams, McDonough, Henry, Knox, Fulton, Schuyler, Brown, Pike, Scott, Morgan, Sangamon, and Christian.
Maps showing Heartland Greenway's route in each Illinois county can be found at: heartlandgreenway.com/illinois-county-maps/.
The pipeline itself would be made of steel and be between 6 and 24 inches in diameter. It would transport CO2 between 1,300 and 2,100 pounds per square gauge and operate between 40 and 80 degrees. The ethanol plants using the pipeline would still possess their CO2, but the plants would pay Navigator a rate by the ton to transport and store the gas.
If it is constructed, Heartland Greenway’s continuous length will equal all of Navigator’s various previous pipelines put together. The pipeline could also be expanded to accommodate other ethanol or fertilizer plants in the future who want to access its services.
What must happen before construction of the Heartland Greenway can begin?
According to the state’s 2011 Carbon Dioxide Transportation and Sequestration Act, Navigator cannot begin construction of the Heartland Greenway pipeline in Illinois until it has been granted a “certificate of authority” from the Illinois Commerce Commision (ICC).
Navigator must also get permits approved from various federal, state and local authorities like the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Department of Transportation.
Even if the ICC grants Navigator a certificate of authority, the company must still acquire all those necessary permits before beginning construction.
Between October 2021 and February 2022, Navigator reached out to landowners whose property stands within Heartland Greenway’s proposed route. The letters inform that the company seeks to conduct land surveys and acquire “voluntary agreements” with landowners through permanent, temporary or access easements.
The 2011 law qualifies CO2 pipelines as “in the public interest, and a benefit to the welfare of Illinois,” which means a certificate of authority would also grant Navigator the power to exercise eminent domain over private land in the pipeline’s route, regardless of whether landowners formally sign over their property to the project.
What is the timeline for the Heartland Greenway pipeline?
Per Navigator’s projections, if the company wins a certificate of approval from the ICC, construction of the Heartland Greenway pipeline would begin during the first half of 2024 and end sometime in 2025.
Navigator filed their petition for a certificate of authority with the ICC on July 25 and the commission now has 11 months to deliver its determination. The company has not yet filed for approval to build its pipeline in the four other midwestern states.
The Illinois commission will review evidence — documents and testimony — submitted both by Navigator’s lawyers and lawyers opposing the pipeline who represent landowners, environmental groups and local governments concerned about the impact Heartland Greenway could have on their personal safety, environment and economies.
County governments have the option to file to participate in the ICC’s review, create a six-month long moratorium to pause construction until they finish studying the impact the pipeline could have in their county, or draft zoning laws that would govern how closely the pipeline could be built next to residential areas.
On Aug. 31, Sangamon County (which includes Springfield) was the first county in Illinois to file a petition to intervene and the ICC’s schedule shows that testimony from intervenors is due by Nov. 15. Navigator’s rebuttal testimony to the intervenors is due by Dec. 19.
The Sangamon County Board will also weigh the possibility of establishing a moratorium sometime in October.
On Aug. 19, the Citizens Against Heartland Greenway Pipeline, a non-profit representing a collection of landowners and residents, also filed to intervene in the ICC’s review. The organization plans to address the Knox County Board during the board’s upcoming Sept. 28 meeting at the courthouse in Galesburg.
Economic and environmental benefits
According to Navigator, the Heartland Greenway pipeline would usher in both economic and environmental benefits to the five midwestern states in its path.
The company claims the pipeline would create a total of 17,00 jobs during peak construction, 1,900 permanent jobs and generate $30.5 million in annual property taxes paid by the company. The project would purportedly amount to a $795 million capital investment in Illinois alone, with $45.61 million invested in Knox County during construction.
Since filing with the ICC, Navigator is now allowed to negotiate with landowners to determine financial compensation for easements. Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, Navigator’s vice president of government and public affairs, said the company will provide landowners “competitive” and “substantial” offers.
Navigator also claims the pipeline would “further the global goal of carbon neutrality” by offsetting the emissions from 3.2 million vehicles or 34.7 million barrels of oil, effectively “eliminating the entire carbon footprint of the Des Moines metro area three times over.”
Burns-Thompson said ethanol plants using the pipeline could reduce their carbon emissions by 50% and gain federal tax benefits. The plants would also have the option to sell tons of the CO2 to manufacturers who could use it in a wide range of industries — from soda carbonation to welding.
Other companies committed to reducing emissions, but don’t have the physical capability to, could buy carbon offset credits from the ethanol facilities.
Concerns over erosion and crop yield
John Feltham, 65, is a retired Marine who owns, operates and resides on 222 acres of farmland outside Williamsfield in Knox County. He was first contacted by Navigator in December 2021 as the company’s route showed the Heartland Greenway pipeline would run through his property.
Feltham was a judge advocate during his career in the military and has since become president of the Citizens Against Heartland Greenway Pipeline nonprofit. He said he is concerned that in constructing the pipeline, Navigator would cut through water-tiles buried beneath his corn and soy fields — tiles that help drain water and prevent soil erosion.
Feltham’s farmland has been in his family for over 100 years and he said the water-tiles beneath it were installed in 1982 and 1984 and have since been continually maintained. He estimated that between 20-30 gallons of water flows every minute through an inlet fed by water tiles in one of his terraced farm fields.
If the tiles were cut or disconnected, Feltham said it could cause standing water to leech fertilizer out of his fields and permanently damage his crop yield.
Plus, he said the tiles would be costly to repair and that he thinks Navigator would replace them using cheap labor and materials. He estimated the price of water-tiling, before inflation, ran between $800 to $900 per-acre.
Navigator’s Illinois-specific informational slide-deck affirms the company appreciates the “importance of maintaining the integrity of drain tile systems.” Burns-Thompson said she grew up in agriculture and thus personally understands the value and expense of water-drainage tiles.
Burns-Thompson said Navigator is “responsible for any and all” impact that comes from the construction or ongoing operation of the Heartland Greenway pipeline, and the company would work to limit damage, provide “robust” compensation and support agreements with landowners who would want independent contractors to repair their water tiles.
The company claims it will compensate 250% of crop yield damages up front and for a loss in crop yield for farmland within Heartland Greenway’s path for five years post-construction — covering 100% of a yield loss in the first year, 80% in the second and 60% in the third.
Carbon dioxideis an asphyxiant
Kathleen Campbell is not a farmer like Feltham, but she also became concerned after she learned her home in Glenarm — an unincorporated township in Illinois’ Sangamon County — stands in Heartland Greenway’s path.
The 70-year-old retired professor received a letter from Navigator in December last year informing her the company was seeking an easement on the property she has lived on since 1988.
Campbell has since become vice president of Citizens Against Heartland Greenway Pipeline, as she is concerned about the pipeline’s proximity to residential areas in the event of a leak or rupture. The closest house in Glenarm to the pipeline’s proposed route, she said, is 600 ft.
Campbell said a leak of the pressurized gas would likely rupture a section of the pipeline and cause an odorless vapor-cloud of CO2 to erupt from the ground — an asphyxiant heavier than air and capable of choking the oxygen from combustion-engine vehicles, making cars unable to start and therefore difficult to escape.
"You're not going to survive and it comes out at negative 109 degrees,” Campbell said. “So what are you going to do, you're sitting there on your porch in your shorts and a t-shirt? It's extremely dangerous.”
Campbell and Feltham both point to a 2020 incident in which a CO2 pipeline built by Denbury Inc. ruptured near Satartia, Mississippi, causing no deaths but at least 46 people were hospitalized and 200 had to evacuate the area.
Feltham believes it would be inevitable that somewhere along Heartland Greenway’s 1,3000 mile long route there would be a defective piece of steel, a defective welt or a defective valve that goes unspotted during construction or deteriorates underground.
A rupture could endanger not just people but also the wildlife, pets and livestock in the area. But without a breath apparatus or a functioning car, Feltham said a person would have to blindly outrun the cloud because when CO2 meets moisture it creates the eye-irritant carbonic acid.
“I guess what you would have to do to escape from the rupture is take a deep breath, hope there's some oxygen left in the air, close your eyes and while you hold your breath, try to sprint at top speed for about one half to one mile without bumping into anything or falling down,” Feltham said.
“You will never eliminate risk in anything, via pipeline construction or driving down the road,” Burns-Thompson countered. “But you can proactively mitigate as many of those that are within your control as possible.”
Burns-Thomas said Navigator plans to install a range of safety infrastructure, including fibers that would sit atop the pipelines and detect leaks or nearby excavation, CO2 monitors that would notify local emergency personnel, and help facilitate training or drills in how to respond to a rupture.
Further litigation could be pending
Pam Richart is co-director of the Eco-Justice Collaborative, another advocacy group involved in encouraging local counties to adopt moratoriums or zoning laws.
Richart said she is worried the Heartland Pipeline could contaminate water aquifers, induce earthquakes, sustain the life of fossil fuel industries that power ethanol plants and pointed to the fact the project would be the larger than any CO2 pipeline the ICC has ever reviewed before.
“I think the whole carbon capture sequestration technology is a great concern,” Richart said. “It's not proven and it's fraught with places that can go wrong.”
The Heartland Greenway pipeline stands to be the third pipeline Navigator has ever built and the first CO2 pipeline the company has ever built. Navigator has constructed two pipelines before but both transported crude oil — one being the the 250 mile long Glass Mountain Pipeline System which the company purchased in 2017 and expanded to 450 miles.
Burns-Thomas said Navigator has hired staff and industry experts to expand the company’s industry experience. She also supported the idea that the value and utilization of carbon is “really here to stay” — meaning CO2 pipelines could stand to be an innovative new technology in a changing fuel industry.
Feltham said if the ICC does approve of Navigator building the Heartland Greenway pipeline, he hopes landowners in the Citizens Against Heartland Greenway Pipeline group would be committed to taking the matter into the court system.
There, Feltham said the group would litigate against the constitutionality of Illinois’ 2011 Carbon Dioxide Transportation and Sequestration Act, and force Navigator to prove why the Heartland Greenway pipeline is in the public interest.
"While that litigation is pending, the pipeline is not going anywhere," Feltham said.
This article originally appeared on Galesburg Register-Mail: Navigator CO2 Pipeline planned through western Illinois, Knox County