Carbon capture pipeline opponents want permits paused until new safety regulations are done

Opponents of three carbon capture pipelines proposed in Iowa and surrounding states want federal regulators to call for a moratorium on construction, saying current safeguards are inadequate to protect people who live near the projects.

About three dozen environmental, public health and tribal groups on Monday asked the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to call for a delay in action on state carbon capture pipeline permits until the agency establishes new safety guidelines.

There was no immediate response from the agency. It said in May it would seek new rules for carbon dioxide pipelines after a pipeline ruptured in Satartia, Mississippi, in February 2020, sending 45 people to the hospital.

This photo shows the spot where a carbon dioxide pipeline ruptured in Satartia, Miss., in February 2020, leading to the evacuation of 200 residents and the hospitalization of 45 others. No one was killed.
This photo shows the spot where a carbon dioxide pipeline ruptured in Satartia, Miss., in February 2020, leading to the evacuation of 200 residents and the hospitalization of 45 others. No one was killed.

The agency fined the pipeline owner nearly $4 million for safety violations. Regulators also have called for research into the safety and construction of carbon capture pipelines, which are intended to carry liquefied carbon dioxide emissions to deep wells where they can be sequestered.

"Any CO2 pipeline permits given before those gaps have been filled will be gambling with public and environmental safety," the groups said in the letter to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. "We know the forthcoming regulatory overhaul will impact the siting and therefore the risk/safety of communities."

The groups, including Food & Water Watch, the Science & Environmental Health Network and the Sierra Club's Iowa Chapter, said California already has imposed a moratorium on carbon capture pipelines until the federal agency establishes new safeguards.

More:Builders vow CO2 pipelines will be safe. Worried Iowans point to a Mississippi rupture.

Carolyn Raffensperger, the Science & Environmental Health Network's executive director, said it makes sense to pause permitting.

"We know PHMSA says its existing rules are not adequate," Raffensperger said Monday. "And yet, we have three pipelines rushing to site the projects, before those safety measures are even" established.

Steve and Karmin McShane paint a sign in opposition to a carbon capture and sequestration pipeline in Linn County.
Steve and Karmin McShane paint a sign in opposition to a carbon capture and sequestration pipeline in Linn County.

Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Ventures and Wolf Carbon Solutions' proposed carbon capture pipelines would cross dozens of Iowa counties. The companies want to capture carbon dioxide emissions from Iowa ethanol manufacturers and other industrial agriculture plants and sequester it in sites in Illinois and North Dakota.

Summit, Navigator and Wolf have said the projects are safe and promise that in many cases, their construction specifications would exceed federal requirements.

Many Iowans have voiced concerns over safety, property rights

The proposals have been controversial, with Iowans voicing concerns about the pipelines' safety as well as opposition to the possibility that the companies will use eminent domain to force landowners to sell them access for the projects.

An asphyxiant, carbon dioxide is heavier than air. Released into the atmosphere, the odorless, colorless gas sinks, displacing oxygen. Depending on concentration levels, exposure can cause anything from headaches and drowsiness to confusion and death.

The Biden administration has embraced carbon capture pipelines, saying they could help halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This year's Inflation Reduction Act boosted by 70% the tax credits companies can claim for capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide emissions.

More:More stringent rules for carbon capture pipelines draw lawsuits from Ames company

The richer tax credits could amount to nearly $40 billion for the Iowa pipeline developers over 12 years.

"It would be ludicrous to allow pipeline companies that want to cash in on this gold rush of federal subsidies to run roughshod over communities while the federal government is evaluating the explicit dangers of these proposals," Jim Walsh, policy director at the Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch, said Monday.

"It's imperative that we take a precautionary approach to carbon pipelines," Walsh said. "PHMSA must halt these approvals" until the agency fully understands the gaps in pipeline safety regulations.

The groups outlined several areas where they believe the federal rules are lacking. Among them: There is no requirement that an odorant be added to the carbon dioxide so leaks can be detected and no defined safe distance between pipelines and places used by people, such as schools, homes and businesses. Currently, they note, there is no provision for a plume dispersion model to aid in defining potential impact areas along carbon capture pipeline corridors.

Story and Shelby counties have adopted rules requiring additional space around pipelines, but Summit has filed a suit contending that the local governments are illegally attempting to preempt state and federal oversight.

The review by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration could take two years, given the research required, said the opponents, who also want the agency to hold public meetings with landowners, emergency responders and others about the projects.

Companies cite 'multiple layers of protection,' vow to exceed current rules

Summit and Navigator have filed requests for hazardous liquid pipeline permits with the Iowa Utilities Board.

Jesse Harris, Summit's public affairs director, said the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has "long maintained rigorous and comprehensive regulations around CO2 pipelines," including the 5,000 miles now in operation. None is in Iowa.

"Throughout that time, these regulations have provided landowners, communities, and businesses with multiple layers of protection and in the process helped ensure there have been zero fatalities that have come as a result of these systems," Harris said in an email.

Navigator and Wolf said they're ready to meet any federal requirements.

“Wolf is committed to safe operations and will be fully compliant with any proposed modifications or enhancements to PHMSA’s existing" regulations, Pat Brierley, Wolf's vice president of engineering, said in an email.

"Navigator is in regular consultation with PHMSA to provide them updates on project progress, and has proactively incorporated many design, construction and operational enhancements beyond" the current regulations, Navigator said in an email.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Groups call for carbon capture pipeline permits to be paused in Iowa