Carbon pipeline causes concern
Farmers and ranchers are independent thinkers. When it comes to people seeking easements on their land to build a carbon capture pipeline, some agree. But others have questions they would like to see answered before the project goes forward. The project proposed by Summit Carbon Solutions has generated a great deal of angst as people consider access to their land, setbacks from the pipeline and the potential hazards of this 2,000-mile pipeline. Some counties have put a moratorium on pipeline permits and construction as they review the laws relating to pipelines.
Prior to passing the Spink County Commission moratorium on hazardous waste pipelines being constructed in their county on June 9, Leroy Braun of Mellette presented his concerns about the safety of the pipelines to the commission.
“My primary concern is the safety of this project,” Braun said in a telephone interview. “With a background in chemistry and physics plus agriculture, I’ve looked up information about the potential hazards.” He cited his source as Science Direct, which provided a “risk assessment for high pressure CO2 pipelines using integral consequence modeling.”
In addition, he based his presentation on carbon dioxide specs, CO2 conversion charts of liquid to vapor and also taking the area of a cylinder and figuring out how many gallons it would hold by volume.
He said in his area, SCS proposes to place a 20-inch or a 24-inch pipeline. Braun said they have used these types of pipelines for 20 years, which doesn’t give them a lot of history.
In his estimation from what he’s read, he’s worried that if there is a rupture in the high-pressure pipeline at 2,300 psi, the line would rupture longitudinally, which would release a lot more gas a lot faster than an oil leak. “The result could create a bubble of toxicity which could have dire effects on anyone in the area,” he said. “If you are in the path of this bubble and it is at a concentration of 15% or more, it will be less than a minute before you pass out and 3 to 4 minutes to death.”
Carbon dioxide gas is heavier than air and would displace any air that is there. That could extend 2,800 feet, depending on how deep the bubble or pool of CO2 is. The normal concentration of carbon dioxide in the air is .04.
“I think more time needs to be spent on a risk assessment before this project moves along any further,” Braun said.
Braun is also concerned about setbacks from the pipeline. “I farm with my brother and my two sons. We handle about 3,500 cattle a year in our feedlot. What happens if there is a rupture? We’re talking about $8 million worth of cattle. I live here, so do my two sons and my grandchildren, along with my brother. A rupture could wipe out three generations.”
He said the route on their land was further away earlier but now it’s 500 feet from his brother’s house and 1,500 feet from the feedlot. If the setback would be 2,500 feet, it might be palatable. “I really don’t want to see this built as I believe it’s a big money grab,” Braun said.
Braun is also concerned that there is a potential danger to South Dakota cities such as Aberdeen and Sioux Falls. “In Sioux Falls, one line is within three-fourths of a mile of the city. If there would be a rupture, it could cause a bubble that could move over a section of the city and impact many people. People need to realize what potential problems could exist. The pipeline is also coming within half a mile of Aberdeen.”
While information from SCS shows there are carbon pipelines in use across the United States, there are only 5,000 miles in the ground. Braun said that’s not for any long time. “I don’t buy that these things are safe.”
He points to the crude oil spill from the Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota in 2017 which spilled over 400,000 gallons onto farmland when the pipeline broke near Amherst in Marshall County, South Dakora. He said, “If it’s oil, it’s a mess. You can clean it up. It’s not the same with the gas in this carbon pipeline.”
The company says it’s the best way to move this liquified carbon but it’s not perfect.
“There are many in Brown, Spink and McPherson counties who are pretty concerned,” Braun said. “This pipeline has the potential to be an environmental disaster. We need to come up with new regulations that make this safer in the future.”
Jay Poindexter of Ree Heights has questions about the easements that he does not feel are being answered by those at Summit Carbon Solutions. He spoke on a panel that discussed the pipeline at Dakotafest and also in a phone interview.
As he drove the truck while his crew was cutting silage last week, he mulled over the questions he has about the pipeline.
When considering the proposed carbon pipeline, “There are safety concerns that are not being addressed. To my knowledge, Summit has yet to come out with an environmental impact statement. One fellow is looking at having the carbon pipeline come within 300 feet of their home. To me, a company has no business putting it that close to someone’s home. As I understand it, there is no zoning in South Dakota to prevent it. Questions are asked and it seems like they fall on deaf ears. That concerns me.”
He wants more assurances about the company’s liability in case of an accident. “The company’s transparency is horrible. The liability wording isn’t in the easement paperwork. Summit says they included it in their good-faith clause. I think we need something more.”
Poindexter said SCS has approached him about easements for the line which will go between the Onida and Redfield ethanol plants. He’s been told it would either a 6-inch or an 8-inch line. “I want to know what happens if my combine falls into the area dug up by the pipeline and it results in a rupture of the pipeline. The line has a pressure of 2,100 psi. If I’m hurt or killed by the gas disbursed, how will that impact my family? Would they pay my wife or what? I see nothing in the easement paperwork that addresses that. These easements are not like a wind tower where you can say no, and they build elsewhere.”
SCS says they have 40 percent of the easements they need. He asks, “Is that 40 percent of the landowners or 40 percent of the land? They keep saying they want 100 percent voluntary easements. But when asked about easements, SCS brings up eminent domain. That gets people fired up pretty quickly. It bothers me they can force their way onto land to survey.”
He’s heard that those who have waited are getting payments that are four times greater than what they offered at the beginning.
“Some from our area signed up right away, but I’ve not asked them why they signed. It’s their land, it’s their right to sign. I’d like to have the pipeline buried 6 feet deep so it’s deep enough we will not hit it with an implement or when we’re digging holes for a fence. And I’d like to have the liability of the company for the pipeline spelled out. What will happen if the pipeline is abandoned? Who handles it then? For me, I’m waiting for answers.”
As with any project, there come opportunities and challenges. One resulting opportunity has been landowners from Spink, Hand and Hyde counties coming together to create a fair and equitable easement. Using the experience of law firm well versed in easements, the goal of the landowner group is to protect the landowners but respect the impact the project has on the ethanol industry. If any landowner is interested in joining or would like more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As one of Brown County’s commissioners, Dennis Feickert of rural Aberdeen said his reaction to the presentation on the carbon capture pipeline by Summit Carbon Solutions was skepticism. He said, “I’m suspicious by nature. I like to get the facts. It’s hard to get my head around this project.”
The Brown County Commissioners passed this resolution introduced by Feickert on July 19, 2022. It, “imposes a temporary moratorium on the issuance of any and all permits, licenses or approvals for the construction, installation or use of any transmission pipeline requiring the approval of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, traversing those lands contained within the unincorporated areas of Brown County, South Dakota, including the construction of any transmission pipeline-related infrastructure.”
After SCS presented information to the commission, the commissioners agreed they needed to review laws relating to the pipeline. Feickert said, “By passing this resolution putting a moratorium in place, it buys the county time to take a deeper look at our zoning ordinances in relation to the pipeline. We are looking at 28 miles of the pipeline going on the southwest side of the county with a line connecting to the ethanol plant in Aberdeen.” Other counties have passed similar resolutions.
He said the county is considering a depth of 6 feet for pipelines and a setback of at least 1,500 feet, if not more, from any dwelling where people sleep.
“There are three points about the pipeline that bother me,” Feickert said. “The potential use of eminent domain, the potential hazards and the money grab.”
Feickert believes there is a lot of pressure from the company to get on people’s land to survey, which doesn’t set well with the independent-minded people of this state. Feickert referenced his great-grandfather, who moved to the United States from Odessa, Russia, and moved 24 miles west of Frederick, where he eked out a living, valuing his freedom to live the way he wanted. That was followed later by his grandfather in 1917. “When I think about what those folks went through to get where we are today, I shudder at what’s happening. Are we losing control of the land they fought so hard for?”
“SCS is looking at building the world’s largest pipeline for carbon that will run over 2,000 miles,” Feickert said. “In my mind, there are a lot of things that the company is not proving scientifically. The public has a right to know more about the potential hazards and who are the investors in the project.”
As far as the project, “I’m concerned about the multiple trunk lines feeding into the mainline. There are a lot of welds involved in the shutoff valves. There isn’t anything man-made that doesn’t fail. This is modern technology, but with a line that long, there are a lot of potential places where it could fail.”
“I feel like we are the guinea pigs with this project,” Feickert said. “The company doesn’t have positive solid answers.”
There is a potential for SCS to make a lot of money but there have to be people with deep pockets to fund this project. The returns of $5 billion for the capture after the pipe gets in the ground will be tremendous. There is talk about foreign investors being included, but information hasn’t been forthcoming.
If the project proceeds, the people will have to pay for the inconvenience plus live with the potential hazards that are on their property while those building the project are far away.
At the recent South Dakota County Commissioner’s Convention, Feickert said there was a great deal of talk about the moratoriums. There was also talk about whether the counties have the power to put the ordinances in place. Out West River, people have resisted implementing planning and zoning laws. “Something like this may change their thinking. I do believe there will be some court cases in the future over this.”
Feickert said ethanol has been very beneficial to the state’s economy and it’s been good for agriculture. But as far as this project being good for the economy, they have sold the public a bill of goods. There has to be a better way to reduce the carbon without putting the pipeline across all those acres of land.
“It’s hard to understand,” Feickert said. “The heat and exhaust from millions of vehicles goes into the atmosphere, but cow farts and burps get blamed for ruining the environment. I’m a guy who raises cattle on grass. There is nothing more efficient for sequestering carbon than through grass and trees.”
“In my opinion, the carbon capture project takes advantage of tax laws that reward those who build the project. To me, it’s a money grab without enough evidence that this will work. SCS says it will be good for the economy and create jobs, but the real winners are the people who are investors in SCS. That doesn’t make sense to me.”
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